Build Your Business Around Tools, Not Talent

Getting off the treadmill

Many business owners get their first taste of success simply be being talented; they’ve got the goods. But the ones that go on to build highly successful companies will not do it on their talent, or even the talent of others.

Too many business owners are involved in talent shows – building their businesses on being center stage and showing their customers how they good they are. Why shouldn’t they? It’s those unique abilities that first allowed them to get ahead. But talent is not a good thing to build a business around.

Tools, Not Talent
In 1977, Ms. Fields’ first venture was a tiny little shop in Palo Alto, CA where she made the cookies by herself. She attracted customers because of what she personally could do. But early on she did something very strategic and simple to build a great company, that all of us should do, whether we want a billion dollar corporation or just a great local cookie shop; she started building her business around tools instead of around her talent.

Rather than rely on her on ability to make cookies, she wrote the recipe down so that others could replicate her genius. Her talent went out of her head (talent), through her heart (passion) and out her hands (process) on to a piece of paper, freeing her to build a great company. The simple tool she created with that recipe gave her a business that could make money without her being there. In ten years the company grew to over $100 million sales and a staggering 18% ($18 million) profit.

Our Secret Sauce
Too many business owners keep themselves deeply inserted into the process, unwilling to divulge the secret sauce that is behind their talent. In many cases, they’re just too busy being successful to even figure out how to pull that secret sauce out through their hands on to a piece of paper. And sadly, many are sure that simply no one else could do what they do; their talent is unique and cannot be transferred to the hands of someone else.

Others Can Paint Your Mona Lisa
There are painters who, if given the proper tools and training, are able to produce such perfect replicas of the most cherished paintings on earth that only a few experts can discern they aren’t the originals, and then only after studying them closely. Even the greatest of talent can be replicated.

It was your talent that designed your Mona Lisa, and maybe that initial “design” talent is not replicable. But the ongoing delivery of that Mona Lisa is easily replicated if you are willing to write your recipe down, turn your talent into a tool or process, and train others to use it. You just have to get over yourself and the idea that no one else could deliver on the unique process you’ve devised.

Be Your Creative Self – Let Others Make the Cookies
Go ahead, be a wildly talented, creative genius. Come up with amazing things or transformational services that make people come running. Then get your ego and yourself out of the way and take the time to figure out how to train others to do it.

In 10 years, Ms. Fields was able to expand from one cookie recipe to 14, and from one store to a few hundred, because she was no longer making the cookies. But she had to get over herself and believe somebody else could do it.

Build your business around tools, not talent. Write down your recipe. Train others to make the cookies, and instead of making the cookies, use your creative genius to develop more recipes and expand your business.

Business is like Surfing

Don’t Float. Paddle Hard. Catch the Wave. Enjoy the Ride.

A long time ago I lived on the ocean and while describing the cycles of business to somebody last week it dawned on me it’s a lot like surfing –

The first thing you have to do is jump in and start struggling against crashing breakers and strong currents. You’re swimming against the tide, diving under the breakers, getting knocked around endlessly, holding your breath too often, and not seeming to make much progress. And you’re dog tired as a reward. Starting a business or any new initiative in an existing business gets you pretty much the same response, doesn’t it?

Once you get past the breakers you are still paddling like crazy against the tide and up the swells and rollers. Most of the time you can’t see much farther than the next wave coming at you and even though you’re paddling endlessly, there are almost no reference points for whether you’re making any progress. Business is the same – once you’re past the initial struggle, the long slog to success doesn’t seem to have any context – is this getting me anywhere? Oh, and you’re tired.

Once you’re finally out where the big ones are forming, you turn around, point yourself at the beach, and after all the paddling against the waves, now you have to paddle even harder WITH THE WAVES in order to catch one going in.

This is where most businesses miss the wave. We paddle so hard against the momentum that when we finally catch some good times and the current is with us, we relax, turn over on our backs and catch some rays. It’s an instinctive reaction and after all we deserve to goof off – we’ve worked really hard to get there. But you’ll never catch the wave that way.

The reason most business owners don’t ever get off the treadmill isn’t because they don’t have the opportunity, it’s because every time they catch some momentum they start floating. When we get momentum, we should be paddling harder then we’ve ever paddled before. When we do, we can catch the wave and at that point you don’t have to paddle anymore, just ride the wave, pose for the cameras and enjoy the ride.

If you’ve got some momentum, don’t float, paddle harder. There is nothing more rewarding or exciting than finally catching the wave. Do you want a business that has enough momentum to regularly make money while you’re on vacation? Wouldn’t it be great to have a business that prints both time and money for you?

The don’t call it “catching” the wave for nothing. It doesn’t just happen. You get out in front of it and paddle like crazy. We create our momentum, THEN we enjoy it when the business gets a life of its own.

Don’t float. Paddle Hard. Catch the wave. Enjoy the ride.

Everything You Need to Know About Business, I Learned in Nairobi.

The Cycle of Poverty is a Mindset, not a Condition.

We drove out of the airport at 9pm into the deep Kenyan night, so much blacker this near the equator. The driver did 5-20mph because anything more would have broken the suspension on the Land Rover. To the left of the airport entrance bonfires blazed 50 feet into air as tires were burned away for the metal chords in them. It was my first encounter of the close kind with the Cycle of Poverty.

After 10 days living on the poor side of Nairobi and spending every day in the slums working with business owners, I was numb from the experience of so much poverty, so many people, and such great attitudes in the midst of this unending uphill climb.

It wasn’t until I was home and the numbness had worn off that I finally realized the Cycle of Poverty isn’t a physical condition, but a mindset; that it is everywhere, and that most rich Americans suffer from it even more than my new friends in Nairobi, Kenya.

My new friends in Nairobi don’t plan for tomorrow because they’re too busy surviving today. So they make just enough money to get through the month, then they go out and do it again – an endless cycle of just trying to make ends meet. They can’t plan for tomorrow because they are truly in basic survival mode.

In the rich west we have exactly the same problem – except we choose it and they don’t. We regularly PUT OURSELVES in survival mode by simply filling our day with things that will make us money today, with no regard for tomorrow.

We’re so busy making money today just to make ends meet that we don’t have time to plan to build a business that will make money when we’re not around. And we’ve done it so long that we actually think there is some outside force that is making us live this way – I don’t have any choice but to focus solely on paying this month’s bills. Really?

You get what you intend, not what you hope for.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we had more time to smell the roses or help someone else be successful? Wouldn’t it be great if we had money to help fix some problems in the world around us? But we don’t have either time or money, not because we can’t get it, but because we don’t actually intend to. We intend to work hard and make some money, and so we get what we intend – HARD work and SOME money – just enough to keep us on the treadmill – The Cycle of Poverty.

A sad irony – there is no question that the average indebtedness of the American business owner is exponentially higher than the business owner in the slums of Kibera in Nairobi. The Cycle of Poverty has had a bigger effect on us than on them, except that we choose to live this way and they don’t. We got exactly what we intended, a treadmill.

Reflecting again this week on my experience in Kenya, I see more and more everyday the title of my book is confirmed – Making Money Is Killing Your Business. It really should have been titled “Making Money Is Killing Your Future”, but I wanted business owners to see that it was written to help them get off the treadmill and get out of their self-imposed Cycle of Poverty.

Change your intention, decide that your Lifetime Goals and Ideal Lifestyle are the reason you are in business and intend to build a Mature Business in support of those Lifetime Goals. Anybody can do it; we just need to intend to do so.

I would love to hear below how you are working your way out of the Cycle of Poverty. Let’s do it together!