What’s YOUR Exit Plan?Aug 13, 2021
By Dino Tartaglia.
There are TWO questions I have in mind whenever I’m asked by a business owner to help them (or, more usually, a person who IS a business owner but calls themselves by what they DO, e.g., physiotherapist, hotelier, graphic designer, accountant, etc).
(We’ll get into why this is holding you back later in this article.)
Question 1: What makes you happy?
See, I’m interested in why I’ve been asked for help - obviously - but many decades of experience have taught me that most people who ask for help dive straight into the numbers, the lack of consistent sales, the issues, the wants and needs of the business ... and never … ever … stop to tell me what they really want from the business for themselves, and why.
Typically, when we get into it, what they want is to be happy and to enjoy what they do and the transformation or the impact of the brilliant service they provide for their customers or clients.
But they never proffer this until I press them.
Question 2: What’s your ‘Exit Plan’?
This freaks them the hell out! “Why on EARTH are you asking me that?!” would be a typical response.
Again, the function here is to get to What Matters Most, the stuff they (and most small or micro business owners) simply don’t think about when trying to solve problems and make improvements in their business.
Because they (and, very likely, YOU) are way, way too busy with being busy, herding in new clients, preparing their service for the next new client or group, chasing money, juggling a million small details and tasks ... but never having time to steer the ship, to stand on the bridge and ensure that the vessel - their business - is headed precisely where they intended.
Now, I’m not pointing fingers here - this is how it is for damn-near EVERYONE in the micro-biz world. If this hits a nerve, panic not - your situation and experience is actually perfectly normal.
Anywho ... back to Question 2.
The whole point of asking about the Exit Plan is to flush out the vision and the conviction that the business owner actually has some end goal, some place they want the business to get to so that they can enjoy more ‘life’, more quality time, more freedom - whatever Matters Most to them.
Sadly, almost no one can answer this as there IS no ‘Exit Plan’. In fact, the best ‘Plan’ I tend to see is “Show up every day, make sure the clients are happy, work my ass off, and hope I make more this month than last month.”
Now, is this everyone? No. But it sure as heck is MOST everyone. And a lack of an Exit Plan is at the heart of this.
So, what do we do to address both of these issues?
Well, let’s walk through an insight from a firm that was one of the most successful businesses on the planet when I was a young boy - IBM.
Now, before I kick off with this, if you’re already thinking “What the ever-livin’ heck has a HUGE business like IBM got to do with my little operation? I don’t want to build a huge business!” Hold that thought until you’ve read the story.
There’s always a solid reason for sharing this stuff.
Live the Vision
When asked to what he attributed the phenomenal success of IBM, Tom Watson, IBM’s founder, is said to have answered:
“IBM is what it is today for three special reasons. The first reason is that, at the very beginning, I had a very clear picture of what the company would look like when it was finally done. You might say I had a model in my mind of what it would look like when the dream - my vision - was in place.
The second reason was that once I had that picture, I then asked myself how a company that looked like that would have to ACT. I then created a picture of how IBM would act when it was finally done.
The third reason IBM has been so successful was that once I had a picture of how IBM would look when the dream was in place and how such a company would have to act, I then realised that, unless we began to act that way from the very beginning, we would never get there.
In other words, I realised that for IBM to become a great company it would have to act like a great company long before it ever became one.
From the very outset, IBM was fashioned after the template of my vision. And each and every day we attempted to model the company after that template. At the end of each day, we asked ourselves how well we did, discovered the disparity between where we were and where we had committed ourselves to be, and, at the start of the following day, set out to make up for the difference.
Every day at IBM was a day devoted to business development, not ‘doing’ business.
We didn’t ‘do’ business at IBM; we BUILT one.”
Build Better, not Bigger (yet)
One of the most immediate tendencies of micro business owners or solo practitioners on hearing a story like this is to recoil almost physically, stating, “But I’m not building a big business,” as if there’s zero insight to be gained by examining the phenomenal success of a massive global when there’s just you, perhaps a couple of outsourcers and an income of less than £100k coming in per year (or whatever).
But that attitude is 50 Shades of Wrong, and it’s going to keep you (and them) stuck precisely where you are for a very, very long time.
Here’s the thing …
Watson had a vision in his head of how IBM should:
- BE the standard (in our aspirations).
- ACT to the standard (as best we can).
- ADAPT what we actually do (to match reality with the standard).
And that’s why the firm was so staggeringly successful (and a primary reason why it was able to become so big).
- BE the vision.
- ACT as a firm that already has achieved the vision, i.e., hold us to those standards.
- ADAPT by reviewing the gaps between what we intend, what we actually do - every day - and figure out how to close those gaps, so that we get closer to the vision.
Doesn’t sound that complex when laid out like that, does it?
That, in and of itself, develops a Better Business.
But the BIG thing? The growth of the firm?
That was an intentional development from building a better business. IBM started from the get-go to build a business that WORKED - really well - and THEN to grow it.
If your intention is to stay small, but to achieve more with what you already have, get your head focused on better, NOT bigger. No one is suggesting you follow the playbook exactly. It’s your life and your business.
So, simply take a leaf out of Watson’s playbook:
- Figure out what makes you happy (we call this ‘What Matters Most’).
- Paint a vivid picture of what it would take to deliver this.
- Build your business vision around that.
- Focus on aligning who you are, what the business is and how you show up every day with the standards needed to deliver this vision.
Simple ... but not easy.
Which is why having outside support, some accountability and an external perspective is so critical to ensuring that your vision becomes a reality.
Grow Better. Build Better. BE Better
I mentioned earlier that calling yourself by what you DO instead of referring to yourself as a business owner is holding your growth back.
Here’s why …
Small business owners, entrepreneurs, practitioners all tend to think of themselves as the skill, profession, or qualification they have. “I am a: solicitor … marketing strategist … business coach … hotelier … restaurateur … consultant … personal trainer …”
This nails-in your business identity and it subtly affects how you perceive yourself, your business and yourself in the client delivery role.
The result? You end up placing what the business is supposed to deliver, what the client needs, what the team (if you have one) have to focus on, as things that are dependent on YOU (I can hear you arguing in your head as you read this about how they actually are, so bear with me just a couple of sentences longer).
Try this little ‘mind shift’ to move your identity from practitioner to business owner. Instead of saying “I am a …”, substitute this with “I have a business that …”. For example:
- Rather than saying “I am a personal trainer,” you say, “I have a business that helps busy mums get fit, have loads more energy and feel confident in how they look.”
- Replace “I am a business coach” with “I have a business that enables business owners to get closer to What Matters Most to them, by helping them build a thriving business around being brilliant at what they do.”
Get the idea?
You shift a label that says, “I have a job” (and I’m my own boss ... and probably not the best one I could have) to “I own a business that provides this amazing benefit to these great people.”
The fact that the business uses only you (currently) to deliver that outcome or benefit doesn’t change the fact that ‘you have a business that …’.
Savvy? (Apologies for the reference if you’re not a Capt. Jack Sparrow fan.)
Now, here’s the IBM ‘twist’ to this. Once we’ve got this figured out and normalised, we need to put it to good use.
Because you no longer see yourself as ‘the person who does’ but as ‘the owner of a business that …’, automatically you must ask what the business needs.
Suddenly, our thinking shifts to attending to the business needs as we would any dependent, rather than simply focusing on client needs and ‘work’, whatever form that takes.
So, now we’re seeing that the business needs feeding (clients and income to pay for costs), safety and security (consistency of income and risk assessment [think ‘pandemic’ - how much more secure would your business have been if you’d had contingencies in place for it?]), and so on.
The business is another ‘person’ in your operation, with a voice and very specific needs and wants. But it’s a child - a fledgling thing - unable to find its voice and meet these wants and needs on its own.
For that to happen, you have to help it grow and become better. Which means YOU have to grow and be better as a business owner, because that’s how you deliver a vision of your business ‘when it’s finally done’.
And THAT’S how you get more of What Matters Most to you.
Need help getting Clarity on your vision?
Of course, simple is rarely easy, and following this advice - if it’s resonated with you - is no exception.
It is, as Simon Hartley, the other half of Success Engineers often says, “Easier said than done.”
Focusing on Being Better and Building a Better Business all starts with Clarity. Clarity in business is a superpower.
You’ll get plenty of help and support within TFCEO community and TFCEO membership programme to get clearer on what you want and some insight into how you might achieve it.
Articles like this are a great help, for example - if you craft a great Plan and DO The Work - consistently.
If you need more involved and tailored help to make that a reality, however, and especially if you want to get to where you need to be FASTER, click on the link to come and join us also in Success Engineers.
We’ve now fully launched The Excellerator (our Founders’ Club intake to test out the programme ran from March to July 2021). It’s a coaching programme where we coach you personally AND provide Implementation sessions to ‘Do The Work’, hold you accountable to yourself and help you get crystal clear on what steps you need to be taking now, and next, to ensure that you waste no time or effort in moving towards YOUR vision.
If you’ve got questions about anything I’ve covered, just shout! I’m pretty responsive.
To your inevitable success.
Dino Tartaglia is a former Electronics Engineer, now a businessman, mentor, coach and troubleshooter working to help you, if you’re a coach, consultant, creative or service provider, to Build a Joyful, Dependable Business around Being Brilliant at What You Do.
In his own coaching, and together with world-class coach Simon Hartley, the other half of Success Engineers (their joint business), he helps you to improve your thinking to ask better questions, so that you solve the right problems in your business at the right time, develop your own personal performance as a business owner and get closer to What Matters Most.
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