Do you have balance across the Seven Elements of a Business?

Business divides pretty neatly into seven categories or “elements” that all businesses must pay attention to in order to be successful. They exist whether we pay attention to them or not. If we pay attention, we are successful, if we don’t, we are not.

Most businesses reflect the strength of their owner/founder, who are really good at one, two, or maybe even three of the seven. The successful business makes sure they get the people and systems in place to have all seven humming.

Get a handle on these seven elements, and get off the treadmill. All great business owners do.

The Seven Elements of a Business are:

  1. Vision & Leadership (mission, vision, principles)
  2. Business Development (sales, marketing, research)
  3. Operations & Delivery (get a process that delivers a consistent experience)
  4. Financial Management (improve cashflow and profit just by paying attention)
  5. Customer Satisfaction (almost no one has a process for this critical Element)
  6. Employee Satisfaction (treat them like they are #1 and they will do the same for your clients)
  7. Community, Family, Self (how is your business impacting the world around you?)


The key is to know which Elements you are really good at, and how to get others to bring the others up to speed. Sometimes early on, we have to cover them ourselves, but knowing which ones you’re great at and which ones you want to off load puts you in a better position to get off the treadmill faster and get others doing the things that aren’t your cup of tea.


If you can’t stand in the middle of the room and share your system for each of the Seven Elements in 30-120 seconds, it’s likely you’ll never use it. Systems are not 3″ binders that sit on desks. They are a remarkably simple set of lean, efficient, time-tested set of steps that everyone knows and everyone uses in the every day of doing business. For most businesses, your entire Systems Manual with all Seven Elements shouldn’t be more than a few pages long. If you can’t share it from memory without memorizing it, you won’t use it.


For each of the Seven Elements, ask yourself:

  1. What is the process I do now for each Element? (You’ve got one, whether it’s well thought out or ad hoc.) Write it down.
  2. What part of that process is working? What isn’t? Keep what is, and take your best guess at what would work to change what isn’t. Don’t spend hours or days thinking about it. Just change it. The only way you’ll know if it works is if you try it. If it doesn’t, change it again until you find the right process. If it’s broken, those quick “experiements” won’t be an worse than what you’re doing and will lead you to the best process.
  3. Get others involved. Create ownership by having others take a stab at the processes that will effect their work the most. They’ll likely to know more than you do about it anyway.
  4. Keep it to one page or less per Element. Resist the temptation to write an Operations Manual. It will sit on a shelf and you’ll never use it. Some of the processes you write down should be less than half a page; maybe one of the Seven might take a full page, but see if you can’t keep them to less seven steps or less per process. Again, if you can’t stand up and share the whole process quickly, you won’t use it.
  5. Prioritize the ones that create the most challenge for you. Get outside help if at all possible. Otherwise you’re going to have to gut it out yourself and get them working in balance with the Elements you love doing. Until you do, you will be owned by your business. After you get all Seven humming, you’ll be on the path to actually owning your business and getting off the treadmill.

Get all Seven Elements of a Business working for you and you’ll be on the path back to the passion that brought you into business in the first place. Get all Seven Elements in place and get off the treadmill. You’ll make more money in less time.

How 211 Degree Relationships Can Be Your Latent Key to Success

Where do most of your sales come from? When I’ve asked this question in a weekly lunch I do with 60 business leaders, 59 of them say relationships and one didn’t understand the question.

So how do we shift more of our spend from advertising, direct marketing, and public relations to relationship marketing? The good news is that it just doesn’t cost that much money – it costs time. The bad news is that we think we can buy customers and would much rather spend money than time. Good luck with that.

It actually works if you have enough money to make a very big and sustained splash. But most business owners don’t have the kind of marketing budget that allows them the luxury of spending wads of cash and sitting back to wait for the phones to ring. Like it or not, we have more time than money, but again, the good news is that an investment of your time in building relationships will be much more effective than a quick, short-term spend of money.

The key is moving people from being “advocates” to “raving fans”. There are a lot of past and present customers along with friends and business associates who really like us a lot. But they have lives and we are not at the center of their lives. I describe an advocate as someone who likes me enough to give me a referral when I ask, but I have to ask. A Raving Fan however, is at a whole new level – this is someone who sends me customers without me asking.

The difference is one degree.

At 211 degrees we get hot water to make tea. At 212 degrees we get steam to power a civilization. We have a lot of 211 degree relationships who are really warmed up to us (Advocates), but what do we do move them that one extra degree to turn them into Raving Fans?

Here are some simple things that can turn Advocates into Raving Fans. By the way, the profound things are always the most simple.

  1. Serve people – meet them where they are at, not where you want them to be. You want to sell them something, but they need a babysitter or a new supplier. Find them that and forget selling them your wares.
  2. Set aside a few minutes a week to ask yourself what else you can do to move them forward? Do you want a client from them? Can you send them one instead? Or just call and say hi and ask them what you can do to push them forward.
  3. Relate/recreate with them – when was the last time you actually took time to build a relationship with an Advocate? Go to dinner, have a cup of coffee, invite them to golf, go to a workshop together. People buy from people, and they buy more from people they like. Become likeable.

Discover what your Advocates want and deliver that. If you do, they could become Raving Fans who will become gate openers for your business. What have you done for them besides deliver something they’ve paid for? Answer that question positively and you are on the way to turning your 211-degree relationships into 212 Raving Fans.

Make a list of five to ten people who love you and aren’t helping you grow your business. Then create a three month action plan help them grow theirs and watch what happens.

One degree – does it really matter? It just might take one of your 211-degree relationships and turn it into steam that can power your business for years going forward.

Why I wrote “Making Money Is Killing Your Business”

I built five businesses from the ground up. Each time in the process I found myself as a hostage of my business, never knowing how it would work out, how I would get off the treadmill, or most importantly, a firm date for when I could look forward to enjoying my business. It all seemed to be up to chance, and that the best I could do was work harder and increase my “chances”.

Along the way I learned two valuable principles that transformed me and my businesses, and helped me build a business I could enjoy for decades:

  1. You get what you intend, not what you hope for… and…
  2. He who makes the rules wins.

Throughout a number of my businesses I intended to work extremely hard and make money, and I got exactly what I intended – hard work and some money. While growing those same businesses I “hoped” they would result in a great lifestyle and worked even harder to increase my chances. But we get what we intend, not what we hope for.

I learned that unless I very intentionally designed my work around building a great lifestyle, that all I was going to get was hard work and maybe some money. I decided I was going to turn the whole thing on its head, stop working for my business and make my business start working for me.

It dawned on me that “He who makes the rules wins”, and that I had been allowing my businesses to make the rules by just “hoping” they would give me a great lifestyle. I added “use my business to create a great lifestyle” to my intentionality, having grown into the belief now that business should not just give us money, but it should give us three things – money, time, and the opportunity for significance, or meaning.

This led me to develop simple tools that would keep me on track to create that lifestyle:

  1. The Big Why – those with a great vision for what to do are more likely to be successful.
  2. A Business Maturity Date – to give me a very clear, measure of the time, money, and significance I now intended for my business to bring me, and a specific date for when I intended to be there – Friday, February 18, 2001, at 10am.
  3. A simple 2-page Strategic Plan – to help me stay above the daily Tyranny of the Urgent so I could focus on the things that would build a business that makes money while I’m on vacation.
  4. Process Mapping – to get me off the treadmill, allow me to train others to do what I do, and create repeatable and consistent experiences for my clients.
  5. Outside Eyes – I have others I meet with regularly who are helping me keep on track. I’m too subjective about my own business to make the kind of progress I regularly should.

February 18, 2011, we’ll be on our way to New Zealand celebrating the maturity of our business, and we fully intend for it to make money while we’re on vacation. Why don’t most businesses get here? Simple, the owner is doing what I used to do – intending to work hard and make money, and “hoping” it will all work out in a great lifestyle. We get what we intend, not what we hope for, And when I realized I could no longer let my businesses make the rules, I was on the road to freedom.

What are you doing to build a business that makes money while you’re on vacation?

UPDATE: The book is now out and available.

Is it Harder to Start and Run a Business Than 30 Years Ago?

Almost everyone decrying the demise of entrepreneurship in America is blaming either Walmart or rising health care costs for making it more difficult to start a business. But the biggest obstacle is a long-term shift in American culture and society that has little to do with big box businesses or heart attacks.

In a recent article titled “Are we Becoming Less Entrepreneurial?” Scott Shane cited 30-year trends going back to 1977 that fewer people are starting new businesses over that time. Other research conflicts with that to some degree, but virtually everyone seems to think that it’s harder to start and run a business these days.

As with most things, there is rarely an easy one-line answer. I see at least four factors that someone running a small business has to fight through these days:

  1. Long-term cultural shifts in the way we view life and opportunity
  2. The constantly increasing costs of running a small business due to government controls and regulations and other factors (such as health care)
  3. Pro-active resistance and disincentive by the SBA to start true small businesses.
  4. Pro-active support and incentive to mid and large-sized businesses by the congress and SBA that create artificial competition for small business.

The overwhelming uphill struggle is against #1, cultural shifts. Numbers two through four added together don’t come close to the problems number one presents.

Entrepreneurship is not declining because of Walmart. He who makes the rules wins. If you play by Walmart’s rules, you will lose, but millions of small businesses are figuring out they can build businesses around rules that Walmart can’t touch and are doing fabulously.

Nor is health care the reason. It doesn’t help, but it is only one in a pile of factors in the decline Shane cites. People who claim they aren’t going into business for themselves because of health care risks wouldn’t go into business anyway. They are risk adverse and if health care wasn’t an obstacle they would find another one as an excuse. Health care wasn’t any better for someone 75-100 years ago but people started businesses.

Also, the SBA has spent 50 years proudly killing people’s dreams by showing them empirically that their dream doesn’t work as an Excel spreadsheet. It doesn’t take a genius to know this – almost no small business makes financial sense out of the box, which is why they go through 5-7 iterations before they find the pot of gold. That’s what entrepreneurialism is all about, and the SBA’s SCORE advisors – mostly middle managers from large corporations who never started anything – are hell-bent on keeping you from the joy of that journey. They would much rather have you sit in a cubicle than give wings to that once in a lifetime longing you have.

Government regulations and a burdensome tax code are also factors. Regulations are never put in place in response to small business abuses and yet small business has the same regulations and tax code as the biggest businesses. That’s why Goldman Sachs was able to make $2 billion last year and not pay a cent in tax while most small businesses will pay a significant percentage of their revenue in tax.

But all of these are just bumps in the road compared to the cultural shifts that are undermining entrepreneurialism in America. In the last 50 years we have undergone a dramatic shift toward an entitlement society. Only 1% of entrepreneurs come from the upper class while fully 27% come from the lower class. Being soft and avoiding the struggle has not made us better. When we receive things without working hard for them we gain a sense of entitlement that leads to dependency that results in a full-blown sense of victimization when the handout I’ve been used to is no longer there.

None of that helps us start new businesses. Way too often I hear from business owners that conditions around them are keeping them from succeeding. This is a mindset of victimization – it’s not my fault, it’s the world around me.

Circumstances don’t make me who I am. How I respond to them does.

Relearn the joy of the struggle and shed your sense of dependency, entitlement and victimization. It’s a deadening mindset and will keep you from getting where you want to go.

He who makes the rules wins. If you decide you can’t make any of the rules (victim), you lose.

Being a business owner isn’t any harder than it was 30 years ago, it’s just harder to convince people they don’t have to lose.