Running a small business is complicated. No matter what the size of your business, there are so many dynamics that you need to manage on any given day that you dream of ways to make it easier so you can focus on the fun stuff and worry less about the daily grind.
Well, there’s some good news. I have one simple tip to help you run a better small business: simplicity.
Every day I work with business owners who are running madly off in all directions -- with their desk phone and mobile both ringing while there’s a line-up outside their office door. On top of that, I see complicated, overlapping strategies and lists of priorities and to-dos as long as your leg. Conversations that jump from one concern to another before a root cause analysis is even attempted. I see efforts assigned to solving problems they don’t have. I see worry overshadowing opportunity. I see stress where there should be enthusiasm. So much of it comes down to unnecessary complication that they themselves have the power to control.
Luckily, at an early age I learned key simplicity skills. And yes, the ability to keep things simple is a skill -- but more on that later. Having started my first business straight out of high school, my lack of formal education and work experience forced me to keep things simple, so I could understand and control the business around me. I eventually found simplicity to be great asset in all kinds of business situations and environments.
And so I was thrilled last year to read Insanely Simple by author and speaker and coach Ken Segall. Ken worked for several years at an ad agency that did work for Apple. His direct contact and participation with Steve Jobs taught him a lot about how easy it is for businesses to allow “noise” in their everyday work and complication to drive away creativity and fun. In his book, Ken recalls Jobs hitting things with a “simple stick” when he found marketing approaches, meetings and product design getting too complicated. Why have two buttons when one will do? Do we need a button at all? How do we make it simpler and easier to use and understand?
In one meeting, Steve was losing his own grip on simplicity, which is easy to do. Steve was arguing that five new features of his soon to be launched iMac could, and should, fit comfortably in a 30-second TV spot. The ad agency’s team were trying to convince Steve to keep the message simple and focus one great thing about the product. Something easy to understand, communicate and remember.
Steve wasn’t convinced, so the head of the agency crumpled up a piece of paper and threw it at Steve and said, “Catch!” Steve did, and tossed the paper ball back. “That’s a good ad,” reported the agency head. “Now catch this,” said the marketer, as he threw five crumpled up paper balls at Steve all at once. Steve didn’t catch a single one, and they littered on the table and the floor. “That’s a bad ad.” Keep the message simple was this ad man’s simple message.
I believe in the KISS principle (Keep It Simple Stupid) and I think it belongs in your small business. It belongs not just in marketing messages and product design, but in filing cabinets and performance reviews and bookkeeping tasks and human resource policies and plant layouts and staff meetings and retail displays.
The truth is, many aspects of our businesses are hard because we make them that way. Learning to stay focused and keep things simple is a skill that you have to hone through practice and self-reflection.
The best place to start is with the parts of your job as an entrepreneur that you dislike the most. Recognizing those issues and finding a way to simplify or eliminate them is a fantastic place to begin and one with multiple rewards – more fun and a less work.
When working on a manufacturing efficiency project, I always ask production staff what part of their responsibilities are the most troublesome and aggravating. These conversations always lead to better practices and easier, simpler work. Yet, when we are done implementing an improvement, the most common response is, why didn’t we see that before? Common practices are often not based on common sense.
So, before the day is done today, look for something in your business that you can hit with the simple stick. It takes time, thoughtfulness, honesty and objectivity. Implementing it at first can actually be a lot of work. But the results you get will be striking and will set you and your business apart from the noise in your business and the noise in your marketplace.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Chris Griffiths is the Toronto-based director of fine tune consulting, a boutique management consulting practice. Over the past 20 years, he has started or acquired and sold seven businesses.
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