I’m writing this on Thanksgiving Day, with my contribution to the family feast happily bubbling away in the oven. I’m also hungry, and hope that I don’t take the food metaphor so far as to encroach on Word Chef territory. 😉 That said, this post is about getting back to or constructing a lean business model, by knowing how and what to trim away. It starts with my Mac-N-Cheese Bake.I made this dish about a week ago for my family, following a recipe that I think I found online (for I cannot seem to find it again). I wanted to make something a little more exciting than regular mac-n-cheese, so this bake, with its real-cheese sauce and breadcrumb top crust, seemed like the perfect amount of flair to a very common and ordinary dish, while still being simple. (And by that I mostly mean fast and with little cleanup, which is the name of the game in this three-kid household!) It turned out to be a 100% edible dish…and nothing more. The cheese was bland, the breadcrumbs were bland (and not quite moist enough), and we ate it. It may even have nourished our bodies a little, but I don’t think any of us ENJOYED it. It needed MORE…but WHAT, and HOW MUCH?
The converse problem to the bland dish is the one that’s got too much going on…a little of everything, trying to appeal to every taste but just overwhelming and confusing everyone in the process. You see the metaphor here: maybe you have so many activities associated with running your business that you’re pulled every which way, not allowing yourself to specialize in any one area. Remember that the second half of the phrase “Jack of all trades” is “master of none“. Maybe you have built a menu of many diverse offerings, so you can say “YES” to any job that comes along. I’ve been guilty of this one, so I know that it can easily be borne of hunger.
Somewhere in between the two extremes of comfortable-but-bland and exciting-but-overwhelming is a great dish that everyone can love. I think that’s what’s bubbling in my oven right now, and I think we can build businesses that function well, with just enough flair to stand out, and not so much that they’re confusing to the palette. I think our customers will RECOGNIZE what we’re doing, find VALUE in it, and ENJOY it!
I suggest that a lean and focused business is one with just a few areas of specialization (easy to prepare, with common ingredients), in which you portion your time/effort/resources efficiently (simple prep, little cleanup), and wherein your menu is trimmed to the items you’re most passionate about and/or best at (your high-quality ingredients), with a few bits of carefully chosen fun thrown in to keep it unique (the spices)!
“Recipe” is a misleading term here, even though it fits the metaphor, because how you do this will be unique to you and your business AND because I’m not claiming to be a business master-chef who can tell you exactly how to do it anyway. I do have a few ideas, a little experience, and this blog, though, so…
- A RECOGNIZABLE DISH: From your entire current business “menu”, choose the 1-3 items that you most love and/or are the best at. There are lots of online tools to help you identify those things if you’re a bit stuck or are just starting out. Ditch the rest (for now).
- EASILY PREPARED: Actively seek out tools and strategies that will help you be/stay productive and efficient. There are MANY, and your particular situation and personality will lend itself toward or away from certain ones, which is why I’m being vague. I know this to be a particular challenge for me since I work from home, so my strategies and the setup of my workspace have to support the separation of work tasks and home tasks that essentially take place in the same physical space. One tool that I find valuable is the Pomodoro Technique of portioning my time and keeping myself on task.
- WITH QUALITY INGREDIENTS: Look at the on- and off-line places where you’re putting business effort and resources. List ’em. Indicate the 3-5 of each type that you’re most enthused about AND are bringing you the most return. Ditch the rest (for now).
- AND A BIT OF FLAIR: Keep (or add back in) ONE OR TWO of those efforts which are unique or fun but from which you have yet to see any tangible return. An example might be that you find it stimulating and enlightening to use Twitter, even though you can’t trace a single sale to it yet. Keep it; you’re building relationships that will pay off later, and you’re maintaining a spicy bit of fun for yourself and those that stay connected with you. “I don’t need what she’s selling (yet), but her Tweets sure are fun!” is A-OK at this point. These are the spices that will make the dish interesting and memorable, but their absence wouldn’t make it inedible.
- Make connections with people who offer the things that you just cut out. That way when someone asks you for that previously offered menu item (and they will), you have a quality lead to give them, and more to say that just “Nope, sorry!” (Bonus Tip: Also learn to say “Nope, sorry!”)
I’m finishing this article the day after Thanksgiving, and I’m happy to report that my improved Mac-n-Cheese Bake was AMAZING. It had the right balance of everything, which means that I’ll be making it again and that my family will come back for seconds. You get the metaphor. 😉
This post is part of the November Word Carnival. The topic is Letting go: How and What to Trim to Keep Your Business Lean and Focused. This month’s carnival will make the juggler want to go stand out in the cold; multitaskers – you’re on report!