Empowering Healthy Business: The Podcast for Small Business Owners

#18 - Positioning Your Business For Success

June 18, 2024 Cal Wilder Episode 18
#18 - Positioning Your Business For Success
Empowering Healthy Business: The Podcast for Small Business Owners
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Empowering Healthy Business: The Podcast for Small Business Owners
#18 - Positioning Your Business For Success
Jun 18, 2024 Episode 18
Cal Wilder

Running a business is so hard that most go out of business within 5-10 years. There are many risks and factors outside your control. Today’s guest Bill Flynn shares his insights about several areas business owners can control and how you can position your business to overcome those odds to thrive with long-term success.

More specifically, this episode includes:

  • Creating a Brain-Friendly Organization
  • Conducting Effective Meetings
  • The 80/20 Rule in Business
  • Cash Flow is King
  • Avoiding Leadership Bottlenecks
  • Strategy and Execution are the Same Thing
  • Start with an Articulated Vision

Contact gest Bill Flynn at catalystgrowthadvisors.com

Sponsored by SmartBooks. To schedule a free consultation, visit smartbooks.com.

Thanks for listening!

Host Cal Wilder can be reached at:

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Running a business is so hard that most go out of business within 5-10 years. There are many risks and factors outside your control. Today’s guest Bill Flynn shares his insights about several areas business owners can control and how you can position your business to overcome those odds to thrive with long-term success.

More specifically, this episode includes:

  • Creating a Brain-Friendly Organization
  • Conducting Effective Meetings
  • The 80/20 Rule in Business
  • Cash Flow is King
  • Avoiding Leadership Bottlenecks
  • Strategy and Execution are the Same Thing
  • Start with an Articulated Vision

Contact gest Bill Flynn at catalystgrowthadvisors.com

Sponsored by SmartBooks. To schedule a free consultation, visit smartbooks.com.

Thanks for listening!

Host Cal Wilder can be reached at:

Moderator  00:01
Welcome to the Empowering Healthy Business podcast, THE podcast for small business owners. Your host, Cal Wilder, has built and sold businesses of his own and he has helped hundreds of other small businesses. Whether it is improving sales, profitability and cash flow; building a sustainable, scalable and saleable business; reducing your stress level, achieving work life balance, or improving physical and emotional fitness, Cal and his guests are here to help you run a healthier business, and in turn, have a healthier life.

Cal Wilder  00:34
Today, I'm joined by Bill Flynn, the owner of catalyst growth advisors. Good morning, Bill.

Bill Flynn  00:40
Morning, Calvin, how are you?

Cal Wilder  00:42
I'm doing great. I'm glad Summer's here in New England.

Bill Flynn  00:46
Me too nice, 85 degree day today.

Cal Wilder  00:51
So as you know this, this podcast is geared toward helping small business owners run healthy businesses. And I think that's kind of how we met several years back. I was chatting with the father of one of my kids' classmates, and mentioned I was working through some issues with my business, and he shared his entrepreneurial journey and the fact he had worked with you and had a great experience working with you. And we connected on the phone. And if I recall correctly, we spent a lot of time talking about business management frameworks like Scaling Up, which you've done some consulting around and the Entrepreneurial Operating System and pros and cons in the different business management frameworks. But looking you up more recently, it seems like you've combined multiple elements from different systems, and I assume added your own special sauce along the way. And so before we dig into all that good stuff, I was wondering if you could share some of your career journey and key experiences that helped get you to where you are today and help position you so well to help other owners of small and midsize businesses.

Bill Flynn  02:00
Sure, happy to. And fun fact, I've looked up so far, and I found 24 different business operating systems that are out there today, like Scaling Up. So there are a whole bunch of them out there. 

Bill Flynn  02:10
My journey sort of has two aspects to it. One is I did a ton of startups here in the Boston area. Over about 25 years, I ended up doing 10, all told. At one point, I was five for six, which was pretty good, including couple IPOs, and some acquisitions and things. The last four did not go as well. But it it really sort of continued to fuel my interest in in business. 

Bill Flynn  02:39
And you know, I always had to, you know why things are how things turned out the way they were. Some call it ideology, the study of cause and effect. I'm definitely a big fan of of studying that. Which led me to my second career, which is being, for lack of better term, a business growth coach. So what I go in with my clients I do is I teach them a particular growth framework, it is based primarily on Scaling Up, but there are some other things that I have added to it, sort of a strategy cohort that goes with it. And some other things, there's stuff in EOS I like that is not as good in Scaling Up in my opinion. So I do some of that. And I do add a little bit of my own flavor. I'm a bit of a neuroscience geek. So I like to explain how the brain works within a corporate environment. And we have to create a brain friendly organization, which we often do not do inadvertently. So that's sort of that's sort of my journey. And now I spend most of my time doing that. I have written a book along the way as well called Further Faster, which is sort of a little bit of my take on on those business operating systems and the things that you do. It's really a Pareto Principle book. It's not everything I know, it's just the things that I think work the best. So that's sort of what I'm doing for the last eight or nine years.

Cal Wilder  04:05
I can tell you, your marketing emails are one of the few ones that I read somewhat regularly, because I know the content's going to be thoughtful. And you periodically publish a curated list of book recommendations, reading lists. I do a lot of reading. And I think we could probably spend a whole episode bonding over book reviews. A book is a relatively small investment that can have a huge return if you can take away at least one great idea and apply it to your life or your business. And I get the sense of you're kind of a lifelong learner, always looking to learn and advance which is great. I think we could probably talk for hours but let's try to keep it under an hour today. Kind of focus on what are the things that you've learned over the years that business owners can use to help position their business for success. When we start a business, there's a lot of risk. Things that are not under your control. A lot of businesses fail. But there are a lot of things that are are under your control as a business owner. I'd like to understand from you several of those that you've seen over the years, that have the biggest impact on your clients and other businesses' success. 

Cal Wilder  05:31
And so one of the things you mentioned, I've got to ask about before I get into some other questions is how do you create a brain friendly organization?

Bill Flynn  05:41
Yeah, it's actually not that easy because we have been taught things that are not brain friendly. And what I mean by brain friendly, is that, here's what I've learned over studying neuroscience for I think it's going on 15 or 20 years now, is that the brain that we have, we've inherited from our ancestors, and our ancestors was, we're really good at running away. And being scared, right? Because those are the ones that survived. So we have a negativity bias. It's mostly sort of the conventional wisdom, or what most people agree on, it's about a 2x difference between a positive bias and people will avoid a negative two times more than a positive. And there's been some experiments and things done for that as well. But the best way that I can explain it is in sort of a parable, if you will, and I'll use you as as part of it. So let's, let's say that you and I are working at same company, you're my boss, and you're sitting in on a meeting that I'm running. And the meeting goes by, and it's going okay. And at the end, you think that there's things that you can do to help me right, you can help me to make the meeting better. So there are a couple of ways you can do it. What we often do, and this may have been done to some of your listeners, it may have been done to you, you may have done it, I'm sure I did it inadvertently, is you sort of tapped me on the shoulder and say, Hey, Bill, can you follow me back to my office? I have some feedback for you on the meeting. Now, what do you think happens to my brain at that moment? Right? Yeah, exactly. You're smiling. It's like you go into...

Cal Wilder  07:25
What's what's about to drop on me?

Bill Flynn  07:27
Exactly, exactly. And it gets worse because now I'm walking probably behind you to your office, which is a status symbol. And then you sit behind your desk, which is another status symbol. And I'm probably sitting in a chair completely exposed, right? So my brain is saying, run. My heart is probably beating a little faster, I might be sweating a little bit. I have been catastrophizing on the way to this office about you know, what's this about? And what are people going to think about me? What's going to happen if I get fired? Well, you know, the kids not be able to go to college, when it couldn't have a vacation, whatever, right. And so by the time I sit down in front of you, the likelihood of me remembering anything that you're saying, or really even hearing you is diminished, because my brain has gone into the call it amygdala hijack, or whatever your want to call it. The old part of my brain that has kept me alive or kept my ancestors alive is really taking over. And the front part of my brain is not working at all. 

Bill Flynn  08:28
Now, what you could have done, which is a little bit different, is you could have waited till everybody left, and then sat down next to me and said, Hey, Bill, how do you think that meeting went? And if I'm not delusional, I'll probably say, you know, it's alright, I thought some parts were good, some parts were not good. And you say, look, I think so too. Let's do this. Let's meet, put some time on my calendar this week. And what I'd like you to do is bring, bring three things that you thought really went really well in that meeting. And that we could probably do better and make stronger, maybe one or two things that didn't go so that could go so well. I'll do the same thing. And then you and I can meet every week until we decide that this is the best possible version of this meeting. 

Bill Flynn  09:09
Now, the outcome is the same, right? You're trying to help me improve the meeting. But you did it in a way that was more brain friendly. There is a framework called SCARF, which is done by the NeuroLeadership Institute, which stands for status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness. And they believe that these are sort of the five major things that our brain is doing on a regular basis. They're, they're saying status. What's the hierarchy? In this case, you're my boss. So you you have higher status than I do. Certainty. If you tap me on the shoulder, make me walk back to your office. There's no certainty. But if you sit down with me and tell me, Hey, here's what we're going to do. I understand that I have autonomy. You've given me, said, Hey, tell me what you think about well, we're gonna work together. You know, it's relatedness is that you have not put me in the out group by tapping me on the shoulder and saying, follow me to my office while other people went in the room. And then fairness is seems like a fair thing. Yeah, this, I'm not, I'm not feeling like I'm at risk. Well, there's a threat. So that's sort of what I mean by a brain friendly company. There's lots of ways we can do that.

Cal Wilder  10:12
Yeah, I wouldn't know where to start there, aside from kind of intuition, right? There must be, is there a book or something you would recommend for people that learn how to apply some of these principles more effectively?

Bill Flynn  10:26
Yeah, there are a whole bunch. The the one that I would say I should you should start with is by David Rock, who is the gentleman who runs the NeuroLeadership Institute with a number of other people. And it's called Your Brain At Work. And it goes through the SCARF model, etc. So if you just google SCARF or David Rock on YouTube, you'll see a whole bunch of stuff, he does a lot of speaking. He's an excellent speaker as well. So that's where I'd start anyway.

Cal Wilder  10:54
I think that's probably one of the hardest things about business, people tell you, certainly in my experience, is the people aspect of it. And this falls squarely in the people aspect of it. You know you've got to have a good product or service offering, you have to deliver it well to your clients, your customers, there's got to be a reasonable cost structure and profit model, a way to bring on new customers. That's where we spend most of our time worrying about and working on, right? But these other skills, the quote unquote, softer skills that are incredibly valuable, but intimidating. And there's a tendency to just try to avoid them if you can, right.

Bill Flynn  11:33
Yeah, and you've already met your peril, definitely. And we have to remember that our default is irrational. We are we are all a little crazy, right? We were impulsive, irrational emotional beings, and that is the default. And if you don't understand a little bit about neuroscience, then you're always at a deficit, because people are not going to do what you expect them to do. And we have to understand that there's a great book by Dan Ariely called Predictably Irrational, and it it goes through some experiments on how we do things against our own interests, in an irrational way. There's a game called the Ultimatum Game where you get to give money to people. And they get to tell you, they get to accept or reject your offer. And if you don't give them enough money, even though the money you give them is more than they had when they went into the room, they will reject the offer, because they're like it not fair, you know, so I'm going to punish you, but also punish myself. And that's been debt studies been done for decades, and it has the same results.

Cal Wilder  12:37
One of the things I've I've worked with, over the years, as part of these personality assessments, you know, there are various flavors of them. And one of my challenges-- now, I'm in the accounting and finance industry-- we used to use the DISC Profile, DISC, quite a bit. We kind of concluded that most accountants out there that we were recruiting and hiring had pretty much the same DISC profile. Meaning they wanted to avoid conflict. They were generally introverted. They like very stable, predictable work environments. They were big on compliance and doing things the right way and following the rules. Ando so, we've always struggled a little bit with doing enough client relationship management, because that requires some extroverted type behavior from time to time. And having conversations that require navigating some conflict from time to time. And so I can appreciate the whole value of this. And I will definitely look into the SCARF framework now that I know about it.

Bill Flynn  13:44

Cal Wilder  13:47
So going back to positioning the business for success. So we can go figure out how to run more brain friendly organizations. But as you've studied what drives success or challenges that could drive a lack of success in businesses, what are some of the things you see that we struggle with, that really get in the way of us. If you had a top few things that business owners struggle with, or executives struggle with, that get in the way of optimizing their their success. What are some of those things. We can go through them one by one.

Bill Flynn  14:28
Yeah. As you mentioned earlier, the stats are a little startling. I've seen to two sets of data from the business, Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Small Business Administration, that within five years about half of businesses fail. Within about 15 years, about 75% of them fail. And actually, if you go out to 25 years, there's only about 16% of those businesses left. And those are the ones that just don't survive, and there are plenty who struggle. I've sort of looked at it and my take is we do a lot of things wrong, but we don't do them completely wrong, we just do them a little wrong. But then it adds up. Right? So you mentioned sort of hiring right? Often, you started your own business and that next big hire or the hire that is your number two is a big hire. And if we do that wrong, then that has cascading effects across the business. Because they're probably going to hire other people and or they're going to bring their own their own experiences to this world, or there's not respect between you and them. And so the the healthy fighting that really needs to take place isn't healthy. But I sort of wrote down 10 things that I think we do wrong. And they are we do change, vision, people, teams feedback, innovation, strategy, decision making, hiring and meetings.

Cal Wilder  15:54
Wow, it sounds like a pretty long list of things we do poorly!

Bill Flynn  15:58
But we just do them a little bit wrong. So so for instance, meetings, right, we suck at meetings. Because we don't really understand what a meeting is for. And, and if you sort of, again, look at the science behind meetings, is there are lots of ways to do meetings, right? There's one way that I really like which is, so if you want to do a meeting, the first thing you should do before you do any meeting is understand what is the ideal outcome of this meeting, and make sure you really understand that. So again, starting with, this is the seven habits thing, start with the end in mind, right? The outcome is key. Then from the outcome, you say who in the organization, or outside the organization, depending on the kind of meeting, needs to be in this meeting. So we have the fullest cognitive diversity, to give us the best chance of reaching that outcome. Then you write the agenda. Now, what we do is write the agenda first, invite anyone and everyone. And we don't really necessarily know what it means to be successful. And of course, you know, what we want to do before the meeting is make sure that all the attendees get from people that aren't in the meeting their input, so they're coming fully loaded to the meeting. And then you you run the meeting. Then when you reach your outcome, you end the meeting. It doesn't matter what time it is, if you reach the outcome, you're done. Now, if you don't reach the outcome by the time allotted for the meeting, then you have to make a decision. Do we extend this meeting and try to reach the outcome? Or do we readjourn and return until we reach the outcome. We don't do that, we set up meetings in a different way. The other thing we should do as well is we should score the meeting. Let everyone score the meeting at the end. Maybe not every time you meet but maybe every few times, just do a one to five-- one is terrible. five is awesome. And then talk about maybe one or two things that people gave for low score, and then improve that meeting. We hardly do any of those things. And I think that's an example of sort of the wrongness we do. We do meetings okay, but we don't do them as well as we possibly could.

Cal Wilder  18:08
That is very true. I remember things from EOS. We'd always score the meeting. It is one of the things I remember about EOS was scoring, the weekly management meeting, scoring the quarterly management meeting. And if you know ahead of time, you're gonna be scoring it, that might help...

Bill Flynn  18:28
Pay attention, right? There's lots of things we do wrong but not terribly. And what happens is, as you get bigger, those things you do a little bit wrong, just get just get heavier. And that's why as a leader, you know, you feel like eventually you hit a wall, or it's just too hard. And you're pulling this company along, and it's it gets harder and harder.

Cal Wilder  18:56
One of the things you you've said, is that few things truly matter, but those that do matter, matter tremendously. Leaders often don't spend enough time working on those things that matter tremendously. So what do you really mean by that? What are some examples or case studies that you can point to, to help illustrate that point?

Bill Flynn  19:18
Yeah, I think the, the biggest case study, everyone knows, it's called the 80/20 rule, or the Pareto principle or the law of the vital few, there's lots of names for it. But we find that that in business and in our life, that most of the results are from a little of the effort. And that applies to your friend network, right? You probably hang out with, you may have 100 friends, but you really hang out with 10 or 20 of them the most often. If you look at your closet, you may have a whole bunch of things in there, but you're wearing the same few things over and over again. In business, you're seeing the same thing. And I think the best example is your customer base. For the most part, if you go through and analyze your customer base, most of your profit comes from a very few of your customers. And if the 80/20 rule applies, in some cases I've seen some of my clients, it's like 90/10. But let's just assumed that to make the math easier for me, it's 80/20. If that is true, then one customer that's at the top of the list is worth 16 times more than all the others. So that means if you can figure out if there's some attributes, or things that are similarities of the top, and you find one more of those, it's the equivalent of signing 16 more of the others. And it gets even worse, if you go to the bottom of that list, and you look at the bottom 10 or 20%, very often they're not profitable. They're either breakeven or not profitable. So they're actually taking money out of your pocket, and you should very compassionately fire them, either figure out a way to change that or fire them, because you're losing money by supporting them.

Cal Wilder  21:07
Right. And so the 16X sounds dramatic. I'm doing the math in my head. But if we're getting 80% of our profit from 20% of our customers, then it's one to four. It's producing four times the profit of one. And that's how you get four times four equals 16. Right? And that's the math you're doing?

Bill Flynn  21:30
Exactly. I wrote a paper years ago, and I do the math of 100 customers, and then 20, you know, etc. But your way is also the same. And that's, to me, that's dramatic, as you said. But most companies don't do that. They think that every customer, they don't deliberately understand that not every customer is the same. And you need to make sure that you as a business, understand, if you decide to bring on one of those not as profitable customers, that's okay if you do it deliberately. They may be very big, or they may be a an entree into something else. But do it deliberately, not just decide, you know, hey, whatever sales signs is good. Cause sales is gonna sign whatever they can sign.

Cal Wilder  22:20
Yeah, they've got quotas to hit. They've got a paycheck to earn. The other place where I see the 80/20 rule being very effective, is when we're, in my company at least, when we're delivering accounting reporting or consulting services to clients. We could spend four hours analyzing everything on the financial statements and coming up with a laundry list of data points to talk about with the client. But at the end of the day, clients care about, is the revenue growing or shrinking? And by how much? Are they profitable or not. Was anything last month or last quarter significantly out of the trend line that they need to understand and be aware of. There's not that many things that a small business owner-- first of all, they can only digest so much accounting information at once-- there's only so many things that really are going to move the needle for them financially. And so trying to really prioritize is key when we're trying to present the financial information to clients.

Bill Flynn  23:24
Agreed, and I even, you may not like this, but my approach is, there's one thing that I think you should do at least every week, which is, it's not a cash flow statement as as a financial structure, but it is cashflow, but it only contains four numbers. Which is what did we start the week with? What did we end the week with in cash? What came in and what went out? And if you just get that as a leader, once a week, most of the time, you're just going to speak, okay, great, you're going to sort of put it aside. But once in a while, there's going to be something you see that you should double click on right and understand little bit more like you know what happened here, all of a sudden, we're low on cash, or all sudden, we got a big influx of cash, and then you look into that. And often you can find a problem before it becomes a crisis.

Cal Wilder  24:16
Right. You may say, well, cash seems kind of lower than normal. You have a collections problem? What's going on? Is somebody disputing their bills? What's going on?

Bill Flynn  24:26
Yep. You know, there's all this other stuff you know, as I love saying, which I steal from others, I can't remember who said this initially, but revenue is vanity, profit is sanity, and cash is king. That's why when I talk to my clients, and Calvin I'm a 25 year sales guy, sales and marketing guy. And I say look, revenue doesn't matter. It only matters like when you want to when you want to brag to your brother in law, or when you want to tell you know the papers you're growing and that looks good. But you should know that it doesn't really matter that much. If you're not bring mean good revenue profitable revenue that's driving cash your business and you want to grow it, then you're not doing what you need to do because cash is fuel, it's also a safety net. So you want to make sure that you're understanding how to drive cash in your business, not how to grow revenue.

Cal Wilder  25:15
You know, it's interesting, when many small business owners go to look at financial statements, they all start with the income statement, the profit and loss, the p&l. And they start at the top with revenue, and then they go down and look at the bottom and profit, and they spend all their time looking at the p&l. On the flip side, cash flow statements are difficult to interpret and understand if you're not accustomed to looking at them with their positive numbers and the negative numbers and the three or four different sections of cash flow, and how do you understand it. So they would never ever look at a cash flow statement if I or one of my team members didn't present it to them. And the balance sheet is somewhere in the middle and tends to get ignored as well. But that's where all your liabilities are and where your cash gets recorded, right. And so people gravitate toward the income statement and the revenue, and the cash flow statement is something they would never naturally look at, but that's what you're saying is the most important thing.

Bill Flynn  26:15
Yeah, but again, not not the cash flow, just those four numbers. And what I've found is that, and you can you can corroborate this, is the cash cash is the only financial metric that won't lie to you. You either have it or you don't, you can mess with profit, you can pay yourself less or move money around and look profitable in any particular given period. But it may not really be the truth. And then of course, revenue doesn't necessarily give you much at all. That's what I really like about cash.

Cal Wilder  26:49
Very true. One of the-- this question may get us back to business frameworks-- you've said leaders rely too much on effort, luck, timing and the force of their personal will to drive success. Those things don't really scale or scale profitably, so what do you really mean by that, or some examples.

Bill Flynn  27:14
I have one client, that I really like working with this group of people, they're wonderful human beings, they're doing a great thing, a great service. They're always trying to improve. But it's really on the back of the leader. And he knows it, and he's trying to stop doing it. And the big example is they have an ERP system, or whatever you want to call it, that has tasks in it. And especially when things start to get a little tough on the revenue side, on the sales side, he'll dive right in, and go in and check the system, and he'll send notes to people, you know. When is this gonna get done? When is that going to get done? So the CEO, and there's 70-80 people in this company, they're fully remote, as well. And at some point, you know, they were growing like crazy, they're growing 40% a year for years, and they started to slow down. And, you know, I'm trying to instill in him that you've created learned helplessness, and you've also made it so they're just completely relying on you for ideas or motivation, or whatever, to then hit the next number. And that just doesn't scale, right? At some point, they're gonna get to, my question is, let's assume you get to $30 million, which is significant growth from where they are now, and you have 120 people, how do you do that? How does that work? He gets it intellectually, but he can't stop himself. And I think he is more the rule than the exception. It takes a lot of courage to give over your company, at least from the day to day, to everyone else. Especially when you're the founder, and you started it and you may have done most or all the jobs in the past, and you're probably really good at a lot of them. Verne Harnish says this thing a lot, which is there's a reason that the bottleneck is at the top, right? In a business, you're often the bottleneck.

Cal Wilder  29:28
So I'm sure you've read the book, Atomic Habits. This is an example I would point to of a habit. And the reason habits are so hard to change, one of the reasons is, in the short term, they feel good. Jumping in and selling a new deal to hit a revenue target feels good. The things that really will drive long term success, whether it's personal health or business, profitability, your business growth, they're a little more uncomfortable or painful in the short term. Like going to the gym, if you haven't been working out for a few years, and you start going to the gym, you're gonna be really sore for the first couple of weeks. But you got to keep going and build that habit, right? And so leaders default, just like everybody defaults to generally what's a comfortable habit in the short term.

Bill Flynn  30:18
Exactly. You're touching on more neuroscience. Our brain likes the status quo. There's something called status quo bias. We like to stay where we're comfortable and not change that. Leaders are about change and decision making. Those are the main things that you're doing as a leader as we want to grow a business. And change is about discomfort. Change is about something new. You have to make sure that you understand that you have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. One of the things that I tell my clients all the time is, my job is to get you, especially the leader and his or her team, to fire themselves from the day to day as much as possible, if not completely. Your job is not to run the business anymore, eventually. Your job is to predict the future of the business and let other people run the day to day. You can't do both. Our brain doesn't do those things well together. If you're in meetings all the time and doing and having to save the company once a quarter or once a month, or whatever it is, you're not giving your brain the time to do the thing that it needs to do, which is sort of a creation act, an innovation act. And that's about coming up with new ideas and new things. And I ask this of lots of people so I'll ask it of you Calvin, when you get your best ideas, what are you doing?

Cal Wilder  31:34
I am taking a walk, riding the bike, waching a basketball game or something. I am usually not at my desk.

Bill Flynn  31:44
Exactly. You're not doing, you're sort of relaxing. Your brain is relaxed, and you get an insight. Insight is actually a connection of two parts of your brain. They're in there, but they're not connected yet. And all of a sudden, and you've probably seen it you like oh, that's it's like a flash. And it comes to you, it's literally in your brain, you are wiring two things together that we're not wired together before. When those things are done most often, your brain is at rest, your brain is quiet. That's why you have to fire yourself from the day to day because your job is to have more of those insights. Your job is to collect a lot of information about your business, from your clients, from your teammates, from your peers, from whomever, and then relax. That will create the opportunity to have more insights. The more information you have that's relevant and connected, allows you to have more of those insights.

Cal Wilder  32:40
So let's talk about how you actually fire yourself from the day to day because I've seen some folks literally start ignoring the day to day, and then bad things happen in their business. You want to be working on the business, so to speak, full-time. But the people working in the business aren't able to keep working in the business successfully. What do you say to that small business owner who really can't afford to go out and hire that full time expensive number two person yet, but they do want to start working on the business more than in the business and they want to fire themselves, but who's gonna run operations if they start ignoring operations. What's the advice for somebody who's in that position?

Bill Flynn  33:23
That is a practical thing around the statement that I make. You begin to fire yourself from the day to day as much as you can, and hopefully as completely as possible. Because depending on the size of your business and the size of your team, you're going to be doing many things. Now, unless you're a very unusual human being, you're not well rounded. None of us is really well rounded. We're spiky. We're we're idiosyncratic. We're really, really good at a few things. Back to that other statement-- few things truly matter, same thing. What you need to understand and figure out is what am I really great at and what gives me energy. Marcus Buckingham calls this a strength. As does Clift Clifton, from from Gallup. Your job is to figure out what your strengths are as quickly as possible, and try to find ways to do them as much as possible. And then find out what your weaknesses are. Your weaknesses aren't necessarily things that you aren't good at. But they drain you. It's about energy. For instance, I'm a very good networker. If I go to a networking event, I'm really good at it, but I'm an introvert, mostly. By the end of that two hours I'm exhausted. I just want to go home and take a nap. I have a really good friend who is also an excellent networker. And when those two hours of done, he's like, Hey, guys, where we going next? He wants to keep going. So to him, that's a strength. To me, it's a weakness. We're both very good at it, but it's a completely different thing. I do love the love-loathe list, which you're probably familiar with. 

Bill Flynn  35:05
For those who don't, is love-loathes is basically understanding those two things. The recommendation is you take a piece of white paper, or you take a digital recording of some kind, a PDA or whatever, and when you have that thing that you love, where time flies, you're doing it for an hour, and it feels like five minutes, you're looking forward to doing it again, write that down. And the opposite when you're doing something for five minutes, and it feels like an hour already, and you put it off and whatever, write that down. Stuff that's in the middle, don't worry about. And then as a leader, you want to look at that loathe list, and say, which of these things can I stop doing? I like to take something from Rory Vaden, which is, there's four things that you can possibly do to that. Can you automate it? For instance, one of the things that I didn't like doing was scheduling meetings, and I read somewhere that, on average, it takes about eight back and forths to schedule a meeting. I think you and I did about four or five, right on our first meeting. When I figured that out, I found Calendly or TimeTrade, or whatever it was, and I just said, here's my calendar, book the meeting, and I went to one from eight on average. So you can try to automate something. You can delegate something, of course, right? Find someone who either can do this or you can teach to do this better, or you can outsource it to someone who's better at it if you can afford that. You can also eliminate it. Maybe there are some things that you do that don't need to be done. Just eliminate them. And my favorite is procrastinate. If there's something that you really don't like doing, just don't do it for a while. 

Cal Wilder  36:41
Maybe you'll never have to do it!

Bill Flynn  36:45
If no one notices, and it has no impact, then you can eliminate it. If it does happen, then then you have to go back and make a decision.

Cal Wilder  36:54
Another name for that process I've heard maybe come from EOS or someplace else, it's the start, stop, kill list or something like that. What do we need to start doing as a company? What do we need to stop doing as a company? And what are the things we're wasting our time on we just need to kill?

Bill Flynn  37:08
Yeah, start, stop, continue, start, stop, keep, whatever it is. I love those. I do those with my clients at least once a year. One of the most powerful things is is the stop list. What do we just what should we just stop doing? Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger are arguably the best investors in the world. And when when you ask them what makes you a success and they they basically said, We just try not to fail, we just try not to screw up. They're constantly looking at ways to not to screw up as opposed to not trying to hit a big win. Sometimes understanding that, what clearly isn't working, and what you can stop doing, is powerful.

Cal Wilder  37:57
Another question for you, Bill. You wrote the book Further, Faster? I assume a lot of what we're talking about is in that book, but are there other key chapters or key themes that you want to make sure you mentioned while we're chatting now?

Bill Flynn  38:15
My book is somewhat based on Scaling Up. But a couple of things that I that I've learned and kind of believe that I think are are more important---Scaling Up is about people strategy, execution and cash. You'll see that's very similar. I don't think people as an aggregate is the thing. I think team is the most important thing. Because most people are on a team and most things that get done are done by teams. And we as leaders are not very good, in general, at creating, at attracting, crafting and growing great teams. Back to that idiosyncratic comment about people is that, what we need to do is how to take a bunch of spiky people and create a well rounded team from that. There's going to be inherent conflict in that, which is good if there's healthy respect for each other, you want cognitive diversity. The thing that gets the best teams are having those different groups get together and making sure everyone gets their say, there's going to be introverts in the group, extroverts in the group, there's going to be, you know, conscientious people is gonna be worrywarts, you know, all these people. You as a leader of that team have to figure out how to craft that really well. That's a lot of effort. It's a skill that you really have to hone over time. 

Bill Flynn  39:41
The second is, strategy and execution to me aren't two separate things. They're they're two things of the same. I used to do a lot of Vistage speaking and I would ask the same questions. I think I probably spoke to hundreds, if not 1000s over 1000 leaders, and I would ask them the same question at the beginning, which is: What is the biggest event barrier to growth in your business? I'd do my sticky and Sharpie thing, and we'd put stuff on the wall and, and I started to categorize them. Most of them fell into the execution bucket. Then I asked the folks, What are you executing on? I would get sort of blank stares, like What do you mean, we're executing on the plan. I said, but what's driving the plan. And my goal was to get him to say you're actually executing on a strategy. And when you execute on your strategy, you find where it's strong, and you find where it's weak, and you modify your your approach to your strategy. You may have an overarching strategy, but you're improving it as you go. You want to understand that those two things are connected. You have to have some sort of strategy to start with. A lot of businesses I talked to don't really have a strategy, and unfortunately, they think they do. There's a great saying by Mark Twain, which I'm going to screw up, but it basically says that it's not the things that you know, for sure, that gets you in trouble; it's the things that you know, for sure that just aren't ain't true.

Cal Wilder  41:09
Yeah. I'll put a plug for another book here: Uncommon Service by Frances Frei. If you remember, the key theme there is, businesses, like you said people, businesses also can only be good at so many things. They're not going to be perfectly well rounded. They need to think about what are the attributes of their product or service that they're positioned to deliver very well at to a particular segment of customers in the marketplace. And then for all those other attributes that they'd like to be good at, but in reality, they're not that good at, and maybe they're in conflict with something else that they are good at, just don't worry about it too much. If those things are not important to your target customer segment, then just accept the fact you're not gonna be great at it and don't worry about it. 

Bill Flynn  41:53
Yeah, and be OK with it.

Cal Wilder  41:56
What can you execute successfully on? And what should you not try to be executing successfully on?

Bill Flynn  42:01
You said something, which is really important. Strategy is primarily about choice. It's most often choosing what not to do, or what not to do well, versus what to do. Too many sales driven cultures do too many things. They spread themselves wide. Most businesses struggle or fail not due to starvation, but due to indigestion. They try to do too many things. And eventually that gets them in trouble.

Cal Wilder  42:32
Yeah, I have definitely had that experience. The other experience I've had related to that is, I can think through a lot of complicated things my head and put them in different buckets and think, Okay, we're gonna do X, Y, and Z, and somebody's gonna run X, somebody's gonna do Y, somebody's gonna do Z, they're all gonna be great. We can serve these different segments of customers. We can work with multiple software platforms. But then I've got to remind myself, we're a company of 25 people. We can't posible do all those things. Even if I can keep them straight in my brain, we can't possibly execute on all those things.

Bill Flynn  43:08
Exactly. If you look at the best customers. We talked about struggling and failing, but we haven't talked about thriving. People who thrive go deep first. They really understand their best customer. One of my clients I was talking about earlier, what they have finally come to realize is that they have three completely separate kinds of customers that they're serving. For the first time in a few years working with them, they they started to make strides saying, Okay, what if we just pick the best one? What would we do? How would we act differently? And that allows you to go deeper. You're no longer a sales driven business, you're now a marketing driven business. Meaning you're really understanding how to how to solve a problem as completely as possible for these people, as opposed to trying to solve sort of the same problem for a bunch of different people. That has proven over and over again to be the most optimal way to run a business. The best example I can give, there's a gentleman Alan Mullally. Are you familiar with Alan Mulally?

Cal Wilder  44:16
Somewhat, although not nearly as much as you I'm sure.

Bill Flynn  44:19
You're very well versed in all these things and so you've heard of him. Most people that I talked to have not heard of Alan Mulally.

Cal Wilder  44:26
All I know is he was an automotive CEO, maybe at Ford. I don't know anything else about him.

Bill Flynn  44:33
So in my opinion, he is the best CEO we've ever had in 50 to 100 years. Why is that? It's not Steve Jobs. It's not Bill Gates. It's not Sachin Nardella and all these people. Why is because when he was at Boeing, he took over Boeing commercial aircraft, and they were in dire straits, in the middle of 9/11. They came out of 9/11 better than they went in. Then Bill Ford asked him to do the same thing at Ford, and he did the same exact thing through 2008. Ford was the only company who-- they took a little bit of money, but they paid it back right away-- but they didn't take the full money from the government. And they did the same thing. No other CEO that I've ever studied-- now, there may be others that have done this-- but have done that twice. And he is one of the nicest human beings you will ever meet. And one of the most humble. The reason I know this is because I am friends with Alan Mulally. And the reason I'm friends with Alan Mulally is I wrote an article three or four years ago about how what he did at Ford was very similar to what I teach. He read it three years after I wrote it, and sent me an email and said, I want to meet you, I love what you wrote. And he said, How can I help you? And now I'm in a coaching organization with a number of people. Alex Osterwalder is in a coaching organization. The guy who wrote One Minute Manager is in that coaching organization. Michael Bungay Stanier is in that coaching organization. So I get to hang out with these people who I've learned from and enjoy because of a kind act, that someone who never had to do this. He didn't need to reach out to me ever. He's 75 years old, whatever it is, he's asked by Presidents to be in the cabinet. His status is way above mine. So that's why I think he is the best CEO because he has all those things that you want. Now I think he's a bit of a unicorn. But if we can get close to that, then I think, we're in a better state.

Cal Wilder  46:33
Yeah. So let's try to end the podcast on more positive notes here. What else do thriving businesses do?  What can you do to position your business to have the highest probability of being able to thrive?

Bill Flynn  46:47
The best thing to do is is really focus on the team. There's this guy, Bill Campbell, who's probably the best. 

Cal Wilder  46:56
The coach, right?

Bill Flynn  46:57
Yeah, the trillion dollar coach, as he's now called, which is a book written about him after he passed on. He has been the coach of Steve Jobs, Eric Schmidt, from Google, a number of high tech luminaries, he was their coach. And he always focused on team first. Whenever someone came to with an issue, he said, who's on it? Who is the people? Are they the right people? As a leader your job is to surround yourselves with the best possible people to help you make the few decisions that you need to make but make them as well as you can. That needs to be a diverse group of people. They need to be people who will stand up to you and argue with you and defend their position. But also commit when you say, Okay, I've heard everything and we want to do that. That is the most important thing to do is really understand your team. This is a Verne Harnish question, which I really like is, the first thing to do is ask yourself now that you know who these people are, would you enthusiastically rehire them? And if the answer is no, you need to either figure out how to make it so you would, or move them out of that group and bring someone else in that you would. Until you have that answer where enthusiastically hire everyone that surrounds you, the five, four to five, six people who surround you, you will always be working harder than you need to, because you're probably doing all or part of their job anyway. So to me, that's a wonderful thing to do. It makes your life so much easier. You'll have much more time. You'll be much more relaxed, etc. 

Bill Flynn  48:32
And then the other thing is, have a decent strategy. Understand are you actually solving a problem that matters to your best customers. The best way to go is go out and talk to them. And not ask them what what to do. You never go to your customer and say what can I build for you. Because they will tell you, and you'll build it, and they won't pay for it. Or they won't use it, or very few will use it. What you need to ask them is, how is this making your life better? How is it not making your life better? What are the things that are letting you down? I've done this probably 100 and some odd times I've had these conversations with clients. And I'm always learning something that was different than I thought I knew I was told going in as to why they really cared about what we do. One example is when I worked at LiveVault, which is an online data backup company in 2005, which was then bought by Iron Mountain, I asked this of clients. I was told going in by people who should know, th head of the head of marketing, the CEO, and one of the top salespeople, they said Well, it's an insurance buy. It's just like selling insurance. They'll pay you a little bit of money every month just in case something goes wrong. And I said great, but let me ask them. When I asked them what was really the most important thing, the most valuable thing, it wasn't the insurance thing. It was set it and forget it. They were small to medium business owners, extremely busy. They were saying, I don't have to deal with tape anymore, I don't have to swap things out and label things and do all this stuff, I just put push a few buttons, and then I never have to think about it ever again, give me one of those. They cared about the insurance thing, but it wasn't the main reason. You design your product and or design your messaging differently to let people know here's the value that we're gonna get from it.

Cal Wilder  50:27
Yeah because the insurance sounds like a commodity, who can provide that insurance for the cheapest price. The set it and forget it is a dramatic lifestyle improvement.

Bill Flynn  50:39
Exactly. Peace of mind. There's so many wonderful things about that versus insurance, agreed. So those are the positive things that you can do. It's really just being curious and talking to your employees and talking to your clients. You'll learn a ton of stuff if you act as if you have no agenda in mind, you're just trying to learn about their lives and what's what's struggling in their lives. They will tell you we love to complain and tell you our problems but the fun part is then figure out how can we deal with that if it doesn't fit into who we are, what can be great at, what we love doing what makes us money, etc? If it does, then you're golden.

Cal Wilder  51:16
I like how you said have a "decent" strategy. You didn't say have a "great" strategy. You said have a decent strategy. Just a few simple decisions could make or break. What are you selling? To who? And what problem are you solving. And why does that matter to your customer?

Bill Flynn  51:36
Yep. If you understand how you how you're seen within the marketplace, even a little bit, you can you can then get better at it. And you'll get better and better at as you execute on it. Eventually you'll have a great strategy. It might take you years to have a great strategy. But if you start with a decent one, you have a better chance of getting there versus not having one at all.

Cal Wilder  52:00
One more question. We're covering a lot of ground here. Let's say I'm a small-midsize business owner and I want to implement a lot of these ideas that you've talked about. But I'm kind of overwhelmed. It's kind of like saying, if I have no control over my financial performance, I want control over my financial performance butwhere do I start? And so I wrote this book that gives them a process to follow. But if they want to start improving everything from brain friendliness to having a decent strategy, of all the things we talked about, how do you prioritize, what's your advice for prioritizing where to where to start?

Bill Flynn  52:39
It's something that we've sort of talked around, but we didn't really talk on it. To me, it's you need to have a clear, articulated and written down vision. You need to describe what it would look like when you're when you have success, whatever that is to you. It's not a sentence. It's not you know, we're doing this and that whatever. It is a picture. You need to paint a picture for people and write it as if you already did it. Because then that will attract the people who want to help you do it. They're like, oh, I want to help you do that, I want only part of that. It will give them the opportunity to see what they can do, without you telling them to support that vision. It will also say to the people who are there who maybe aren't all that interested in that vision, to decide to go work somewhere else, because they're not helping you. To me that's the most important thing that you need to do. The only other thing that I say, that you need to have then, is courage. Because you know this as a business, you have to have courage to let go. You have to have courage to articulate all of that because people are going to tell you that you're crazy or you're wrong. Hopefully you've you've written that in such a way that's not just coming from your own thoughts. It's coming from your experience and talking to other people. There's so many things that you have to have courage about. To me to be a leader, a great leader, that's really all you need. There's no formula for being a leader. The only thing that all leaders have in common are followers. And so that means you can't say I'm the leader. You can say I'm the boss or I'm the authority, but they choose you as a leader. The best way to have them choose you as a leader is to tell them where are we going. And say, follow me here. To me, that's where you should start. And I think the best book, you probably know this as well as by Cameron Herold, called Vivid Vision. It's a recipe book on how to write at least a three year vision. I love the way he writes it because it's very, it's like, do this do that, here's seven examples. I'm a big fan of steal them. Just go look and say, oh, I want that piece and then write your own version of it. But you can put together what your vision might look like, at least from a framework perspective, from his examples. So that's what I always say is the best way to start.

Cal Wilder  55:03
Well, I'd love to recap everything we talked about, but that would be a pretty long list. So we'll have chapter markers in the show notes so you can find where in the episode to go or you listen to something that you're interested in. So Bill, you've got an active coaching business and I think you can continue to help a lot of business owners. If somebody wants to get in touch with you now, what's the best way for them to reach you?

Bill Flynn  55:29
My websites is probably the best which is CatalystGrowthAdvisors.com. My book is on there. You can download my book for free. It's more about the message than the money for me. My calendar is on there. My contact information is on there. As you said, thank you very much for being a loyal reader, as I put out twice a month some actionable blog post, if you will. So that's the best place to go is www.CatalystGrowthAdvisors.com.

Cal Wilder  55:57
Reference show notes and find other episodes on EmpoweringHealthyBusiness.com. If you would like to have a one-on-one discussion with me, or possibly engage SmartBooks to help with your business, you can reach me at Cal@EmpoweringHealthyBusiness.com or message me on LinkedIn where I am easy to find. Until next time, this is Empowering Healthy Business, the podcast for small business owners, signing off.

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Conducting Effective Meetings
The 80/20 Rule in Business
Cash Flow is King
Avoiding Leadership Bottlenecks
Strategy and Execution are the Same Thing
Start with an Articulated Vision