Why thinking outside the box is overrated

I’ve been working with business owners for a long time and I’m also in business. Now, I don’t want to brag, but I when I started in my first business 25 years ago, I took a small 10 thousand dollar debt, and in 12 short months… I more than doubled that debt!

Truth is, I didn’t know much about business. I had the desire, I found the opportunity, I had the courage to take the risk and start but I didn’t really know what the fundamentals were let alone how I was going to manage them.

25 years ago, the internet had just been invented, but we hadn’t heard of it. The founding of Google was still 9 years away. So information wasn’t as easy to find as it is today. Information is now very easy to find. And there is a lot of it out there about business. Establishing a business, growing a business, buying a business, selling a business. Webinars, seminars, YouTube videos, articles, e-books, real books, magazines, e-zines, blogs… the list goes on.

There’s also a lot of noise about the seven ways to do this and the three quick steps to that. Most of this is useful information. You can learn lots, get great ideas, see case studies and be amazed and inspired by other people’s success stories. I do it all the time.

Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot about “thinking outside the box”. You have to zig when everyone else zags, you have to create the game changer… but in my experience in working with entrepreneurs and business owners over many years, most businesses don’t notch up such lofty achievements. Most aren’t revolutionising their industry. Most just do what they do really well, have a good brand and story that goes with it and have worked hard to build a loyal customer base.

What I find interesting however, is that in our work with the owners of what would generally be called “smees”, there are two things we see over and over again, even if the owners have come up with a great idea, are thinking creatively and are getting lots of “likes” on things:

  1. The fundamentals are not in place.
  2. They struggle to implement.

Let’s have a little talk about fundamentals. Before you start taking over the world with your business, it’s worth asking a few questions to make sure you have the basics covered…

What’s your big picture plan?
Do you have a clear plan for where you’re going, and more importantly, why? A really clear plan. And do you want it bad? I mean really-really-do-any-bloody-thing-to-make-it-happen bad. What gets you out of bed in the mornings, what difference do you want to make? How will you know when you’ve succeeded and how and when do you want out?

How have you structured the business?
Are you going to work in your business alone or add partners, shareholders or other directors? Should you have one company or a number of them to minimise risk and taxation? Do you need a discretionary trust, a unit trust, partnership agreements or buy-sell agreements? Should you licence or franchise or have agents or representatives?

Who’s in your team?
Who will you need in your business to succeed? What skills sets, personalities and traits do you want in your business? How will you find, train and keep those really awesome people who help you get to where you want to go and make it more exciting and rewarding than you ever could yourself?

What do your finances look like?
What will your business need as it grows – cash, computers, people, advertising, an office and chairs? Not to mention something to sell. How much do these things cost, how long do they take to produce and then sell and how long until you get paid? Will you get funds into the business in the form of debt or equity or using a more sophisticated investment model? What are the pros and cons of each strategy for your long-term success and the asset value of your business?

How about your brand?
Yes, you have a nice logo and some business cards, but your brand is much more than that. To me, your brand is what your customers think of you. Do they “get” you? Do they know what you stand for, understand what you do and how you can help them and are they prepared to make you their go-to place when they want what you offer? That’s the power of brand. It’s complex and needs good planning and constant managing.

Do you really know your market?
You may know your ideal customers are between 30 and 40 years old, you may refer to them as an avatar, but do you really know your customers. In particular, do you know what attracts them, what drives them? Do you know what keeps them awake at night? Do you know what they secretly hope for but are too afraid to put into words? That’s what I mean by knowing your customers, because these are the things that will connect you to them and spur them into action.

What are your products and services and how much?
Does your business have unique services or a unique approach to providing its services? Not all do of course, but if you have a particular angle that works for your market – great! If your product is unique or stands out from those of your competitors, or doesn’t have any competitors, you may have the ability to price it at a premium level. If you offer similar products to everybody else, how can you package them up to make them feel different from a customer perspective? Is there something you do that adds value in a way that others can’t? Have you looked at your competition, not just in your neighbourhood but across the world online, and then positioned yourself at the right level?

Have you thought about the business model, systems and processes?
How is your business structured? What entities do you have and what do you need to protect your assets and minimise tax? Can you use a different business model to attract capital and drive growth? Do you follow a process in conducting your business and if so, what does that look like? Is that process clearly documented so other people in your business can learn and apply it, or does everything live in your head? Have you looked for ways to automate and streamline your business operations so you can focus on the important things – like your team and your customers?

Who are your advisors and strategic partners?
There are very few people who succeed in business all by themselves. If you want to grow a business that can scale beyond the day-to-day effort you put in, you are likely to need good advisors, consultants, coaches and mentors. And if you have the ambition to grow, partnering with people in organisations that complement yours is a really powerful model. Who can add value to your existing customers and put you in front of theirs? Who can you add value to in return for another channel to market, an endorsement or cross-marketing opportunity?

And here’s the crunch:

What are you like at implementing?

I spend every day working with business owners and I speak at entrepreneur seminars and business conferences. I’ve had many people come to me afterwards and say something along the lines of – “we know what we should do, but its just not happening”. Success is not only in the knowing, but in the doing.

The reason you’re not getting things done will be unique to you, but if you struggle, believe me, you’re not alone. There are always a million priorities, competing demands for your time and focus and money. If that sounds like you, we get it. That’s why we talk a lot in our business and with our clients about getting shit done. Do you have a really effective process for making sure you identify the priorities for where you are right now in your business, stay focused on them and get them done – so you move another step closer to your goals?

These are the fundamentals that create a great business out of your good ideas and an awesome business out of your great ideas! They’re also key in making sure your business will be around long enough for you to make it successful and achieve your goals.