If you have anyone in your life (as I do) who experience high levels of anxiety (disorder) there are certain events that stick with you. The culmination of experiences over the last two decades has made my mind tougher than I could have ever imagined, especially since my father died. It’s also shown me the power of mindset and what you say to yourself is the most important thing. People close to me suffer with anxiety that I could never have imagined growing up and while it may be just an excuse not to deal with root causes and feelings, it doesn’t make the actual actions around it any less severe. Some people make you feel their anxiety without even realizing it. They have things that they need to do to feel less anxious and then if you don’t do them also, it’s a big deal to them. Maybe you don’t have anyone in your life like that. I do. Of course, that’s not how they see it either, and that’s when the problem comes up. We’re managing.
There’s no reason to endlessly ask yourself these questions every day or week or month or even quarter; however, it’s crucial to do an audit on your business every year at least and check your financial performance against some benchmark. That means picking some metric (or many) to judge how well you’ve done in the last 12 months and onward. The following questions are simply a guide to that audit since the metrics are not always bottom line in nature.
Questions to guide decisions…
Are you looking to grow or get out?
Is this a business or a career?
What is your core vision of the business?
How serious about your business are you?
Why’d you get into this line of business?
What do you think you sell?
What is your cost to make it?
What are your current expenses?
What do you pay your employees?
How do you go to market? (list all the ways)
Would you say your records are in order?
Have your costs risen faster than your sales?
Do you invest your cash flow outside the business?
Do you have to buy equipment or property often?
Do you have any research or development costs?
What’s your ad budget? Where is it spent?
Do you have a social media strategy?
Do you have a mobile ready website? or App?
How could you increase the prices of your products?
How could you increase the number of times customers buy?
How could you increase your customer base?
How could you increase your employees pay?
How do you run your meetings?
Would you say they are productive?
Would you say your proactive or reactive?
Are you holding weekly meetings on your impact areas?
How can you get your troops congruent with the same message?
Do you steadily repeat core material into your organization?
What kind of first impressions are you making?
How important is confidentiality to you?
How do you spend your time daily?
How many hours a week are you working right now?
If you didn’t show up one day, what happens?
Who are your best buyers?
What are your ambitions as an owner?
Do you have a job or a business?
Do you have a plan for business and marketing?
What are your high impact areas?
Have you created a core story for your business?
Do you have a training platform for your employees?
Are you using tribal method of training? Or, systematic?
Have you set minimal acceptable requirements for every area of the business?
Are your employees performing each aspect of their jobs consistently?
What’s the ideal procedure for initial contact with a client?
What are the 5 questions you’ll ask every client?
What are the 10 follow up procedures that you insist upon?
How fast can you grow?
How much focus do you give to the 3P’s? (planning, policies, procedures)
Are you spending at least one hour a week “on” the business?
and more specific questions…
Where do you see your business going in the next 5 years?
What is the driving force for you to be involved with this business?
What does your business aim to accomplish?
If there was one message you could send to all of your clientele what would it be?
How did you did you end up in this business? (How long?)
If there was one thing you could change about your business what would it be?
Do you set quotas for your business? (What are they?)
What has been the most effective way to obtain new business?
Do you use social media to market your product?
Do you use your website to assist you in converting sales?
Do you track your marketing and sales? (What has been effective, converted sales, follow up method)
What do you do to retain clients? (Repeat customers)
How long is your sales cycle?
How do you predominantly get your message out to prospective clients?
When was the last time you had your website updated?
Do you track how many visitors, sales conversions ect the site has?
Do you post on social media or have someone else do it?
Do you interact with current and/or prospective clients via social media?
Which social media platform do you use?
Do you think a functioning website and social media platform is a key component to running a successful business?
How do you use your website and social platforms to create an advantage for your business?
How difficult is it for your business to keep sufficient inventory?
What are the most important processes/procedures you have implemented to ensure success?
What is the most important relationship you have outside of the one with your clients? (Suppliers)
What is the one area of your operations that would need the most assistance?
How do you assess if a procedure is working?
What would you consider your biggest strength? (The thing you worry about least)
What is the first thing you look for when hiring someone for a position within your company?
Where do you find your talent?
What is the hiring process? (Apply, interview, phone, in person, do you do it yourself, HR)
How much time is spent on training new employees?
Do you keep up to date with new methods and training?
How often are employees being retrained and given new training to develop new skills?
What incentive do you give to retain the workers you have trained?
How do you determine who is a good employee?
What can someone do to get fired in your eyes?
How do you keep your employees accountable for the training they have received and the work that they do?
Do you do your accounting in house or have you hired someone outside to do the work?
How do you budget for the the different departments of your business?
What part of your business do you believe is most important to reinvest in?
Do you have a strategy to invest the money that your business brings in?
Do you take advantage of all the tax breaks for owning a small business?
How often are you assessing where your business is and where it is going?
Do you have legal representation who specializes in your type of business?
What processes/procedures do you have in place to ensure you are compliant within the scope of your business?
Have you ever had an issue with compliance that caused harm to your business or reputation?
For many years now, Key Bridge has been more or less an idea, concept, and project (hobby if I’m brutally honest) in planning mode. Maybe it was fear holding me back or my tendency to pick apart every business turned on my own that prevented this from coming to fruition sooner. The idea now is to build a global network of business owners, entrepreneurs, and executives who are dedicated to building better assets, tackling global challenges, and advancing the greater good. Where I think Key Bridge can add the most value is through a deep understanding of what drives business and financial success, and the necessity of having an unbiased, almost clinical, approach to the actions and decisions required to achieve it.
We started strong in 2014 and I was fortunate to have other people with me. Many have gone on to run million dollar businesses. Today is all that matters though and after a long pandemic break, I’m starting to build again. This post is dedicated to all the notes taken from the last few years. It’s a kitchen a sink of my mind and the meeting of the minds with over a dozen other people through the years. Thanks Alex, Scott, Matt, Janice, Daniel, Greg, Sandy, Allegra, Kinsey, Mary, Ed, Joe, Mo, and any of the others who I forgot.
At first, the idea was to provide business leaders with a membership and consult with them through a multitude of organizational challenges. This generally meant working on a few standard areas and helping allocate capital for business development outcomes. BizDev is still a catch all for growth, just for some businesses that means efficiency via better processes and policies and training instead of just revenue generation, but at the end of the day no sales no profit no business.
I thought Key Bridge could offer a few novel things within a flat fee structure plus charge incentive fees based on value added results. The trouble with this thought was creating a tribe mentality. Not that tribes are bad, they crop up in every company, industry, locality. It was more about time spent within the tribe we’d create. See the dilemma of consulting work is that success is dependent on the business as much as it is your own efforts.
A consultant could be Lebron James of the industry, if the client doesn’t have the capital or the ability or fortitude to do what it takes, it won’t work. Success has three parts: mastering the fundamentals, allocating capital at scale, and adjusting with market changes. The biggest thing that separates leading organizations and everyone else is the ability to pouring capital into trying new ideas and then scaling what works faster than others. News ideas breeds novelty and the market adores novelty. Also, ideas aren’t the job of the top leaders of the business, it’s their job to allocate capital.
These concepts were gained by spending 20 years, 40,000+ hours analyzing and forecasting publicly and privately held companies for high net worth investors. I started Key Bridge on the back of this education to help build better assets for smaller organizations by “bridging” the gaps along the way from the front lines to the executive suite. The gaps are everywhere and need to be rather customized to the role, size, function, industry, etc. I think there are usually multiple good solutions to achieve better results and make more money across every aspect. That’s where the art of business comes in.
Where I thought we could add value…
increase long term stability and value extraction
learn and implement the best practices of large firms
expand time through delegating and prioritizing
sustainable revenue and profit growth (with inflation)
develop and execute a social engagement strategy
create a core narrative, adjust marketing plan
hire, train, and retain the right talent
improve customer service, experience
plan for ownership transition or exit / sale
remain relevant, stay ahead of industry trends
cooperatively lobby governments
cooperatively reduce costs with suppliers
benefits and executive wealth planning
ensure appropriate legal compliance measures
develop custom business strategies and tactics
help make better capital allocation decisions
create plans, policies, and procedures to handle every operational aspect
and so many other ideas that arise by working together….
Business is complex and humans are complicated, so keeping it super simple is as much an oxymoron as it is mandate. Praxeology, the study of human behavior in economic terms helps make things as simple as possible, because despite the rise of machines, businesses are still created by and for the benefit of people. I believe that business is the lifeblood of progress. People start businesses, success turns to profit, and profit is allocated to growth and progress.
Why is there a profit? The uninitiated would conjecture its because of worker exploitation. Where it actually comes from is serving the customer, which is generally an end consumer. A business needs profit to survive, and it’s only in the intelligent re-allocation of the profit where growth is possible. There are plenty of businesses that don’t grow, most of them in fact. More importantly, you are the driving force regardless of where you fit in the value chain. Namely, because anyone that spends their time, money, or resources for the potential of greater economic rewards is a capitalist in my book.
Capitalists benefit society twice: first by bringing useful goods to market and then by giving back through consumption, investments, charity, and taxes. Almost every nation enjoys the fruits of this minority, yet they are, at times, the group that receives the most anger directed toward them. Whatever is thought of the social system called capitalism, history has shown it to be the best path to freedom and prosperity for all of us, not just the few with the power. The problem is conflating real capitalism, which is built on limited government, individual rights, privately owned property, and open market competition for socialism with capitalists involvement. I digress…
You’re in an ultra competitive market and times are changing rapidly. My goal (at least in the beginning) with Key Bridge is to become a zero equity partner with small business owners (like yours) to help them get full value from their venture and because of the framework we use, and our services are less expensive for similar or better results. To borrow a statement: we help leaders and future leaders across industries work smarter and faster by providing provocative insights, actionable strategies, and practical tools to support capital allocation decisions.
Along the lines of membership based consulting was an idea for advisory blocks, topics spanning the core areas of business (e.g. strategy, operations, etc.) and the deeper parts within them (e.g. advertising, planning, product development) all of which add up to better business development. The idea at first was to partition them out as matter specific micro-engagements with 30 day cycles. The thought was that there are eight core pillars, nine if you include “outliers,” that a business is built upon. This foundation has many different parts that can be challenging to every business, but not at the same time.
The question I started with was “how can Key Bridge be a global advisor to as many businesses as possible?” The answer: almost impossible. The amount of talent and structure we’d have to create seemed daunting, especially if the idea was to charge $500 per matter per cycle. Sure, we’d be able to build some big time billings with some members, but most would be one offs here and there. That would be fine if we could get a team of experts to work with us or hire a ton of people with generalized knowledge. I was thinking SeekingAlpha contributors working as consultants.
The next question was how many matters would they have to take on to incentivize them to be good to great? For instance, if the average consultant makes around $100 an hour, the monthly benefits package would need to be roughly $20,000 to retain “average” consultants. Working with us would mean mostly dealing with businesses in the local region of the consultant and simple math told us that 50 matters a month would be sufficient after a 20% cut. Then it comes down to time constraints and member priorities.
Fact is that some people and businesses require more attention than others. That’s why we ditched this plan for the flat rate per quarter idea since companies set quarter over quarter goals generally and some strategies take time to implement. At $5,000 per quarter, each of our consultants (we call them CXO’s as in chief experience officers) would need to handle just 12 members and could easily double that as we grew. And, there’s the rub. $5k per quarter is $20k per year, which is equivalent to 33 weeks at DC minimum wage rates. Small businesses may not be able to afford that or want to pay that, especially as the idea was to add incentive fees on value added results… like if we brought in a big deal or found a huge budget discrepancy.
Then, the question was “how and where can we outsource deliverables?” This led to about a year working on affiliations and partnerships, many of which never panned out. All in all, it’s been difficult to work out the right structure for deliverables at the cost we need it. Sure, we can join GLG or BNI or use Freelancer, Fiverr, UpWork (which we do) but we wanted an internal database of suppliers, and that takes time. Sure anyone can access the 10+ million freelancers out there, I just didn’t want to be running negative balances in the process.
So… that’s where my heads at.
Adding value is really nothing more than value giving because there should be nothing asked in return.
That’s a hard concept for most people to wrap their head around. Me too at times, especially because unlike many many many “value adds” touted, my company operates and is paid by members only. In the upcoming quarters I will be putting out public content and building out a public side of the business – all without ads, sponsors, commissions, etc. I’m not sure what value adds to give, but I hope that they actually do “add value” and don’t just stand there looking stupid.
What can add value for business owners?
Here are some of my ideas so far.
- Analysis of public businesses
- Commentary on business news, events
- Expertise from local business owners
- Stories about local businesses
- Discounts from suppliers
- Directory of B2B experts
- Curated information, content
Some people have a real problem when others make them feel a certain way. To me, you have to allow someone to make you feel a certain way which is why those closest to you can have the greatest impact, positive and negative. At the same time, context matters. Someone you don’t really know making fun of something could roll off your back, or it could make you the angriest, while the person you love could have the opposite effect… or affect. Grammar?! The issue is in how you respond. If you snap back with a stern “fuck off” or start yelling at the other person, that’s not good and in my case will cause me to laugh even more, perpetuating the initial problem you had.
I have the unfortunate habit of laughing even when things aren’t supposed to be funny. Plenty of ass whoppings as a kid resulted from that. As I got older, it turned into a defense mechanism to alpha behavior at school and work, which only annoyed those trying to be “big shots.” So, in a way it was a good thing to cultivate and allow. I’m also not phased by people in leadership or authority positions trying to beta trap me or condescend. Good luck not getting ridiculed. At the same time, when I’m the one in that position, I laugh off ridicule and remain cool under pressure generally.
However, there is always an outlier. You know, that one person who can take a joke one minute but the next you go too far. Since I don’t enjoy feeling like a bully, a quick apology helps, but if there’s any flip flopping, the next time I won’t be so nice. My dad was a great jokester… about everything except his hair and sleep apnea. He would fall asleep in a chair at a moments notice. In my 20’s when I came home it would be a joke to make which he personally never mentioned because he was a good sport. My mom however, pulled me aside one day and gave me the strong “don’t do that” warning. I listened. Even if my dad had said that specifically, I would have listened. Some people don’t want any ridicule. Bollocks.
In my house ridicule is required. It promotes humility and keeps you humble. Also, no one is allowed to dish and not receive. IF the joke isn’t funny that’s one thing. If it is and you don’t like it and you decide to snap back or get mad… oooooooo. Better develop a thicker skin – within reason. I never promote bullying, have been the victim of it too. I do promote fighting back with words and wit and reason. I hope my son won’t bust my chops too much as I age.
The pursuit of pleasure seems like a carnal desire rather than an innocent endeavor. Maybe it’s just me and my perverted mind. Here’s the reason I’m even thinking about this… marketing. I’m trying to build something that is different than the same run of the mill business membership or advisory network. Sure, there is a place for a new one, many in fact, especially if you add value in excess of fees. That’s true in pretty much every business. The local deli can be the 23rd in the city and still succeed if it’s able to do this.
So, back to pleasure. Life should be pleasurable in my opinion. I think the pursuit of profit, progress, and pleasure are three of the most noble. I don’t know why someone would want to do something without at least the potential for a pleasurable outcome. I mean, even if you hate your job (many people do) you still do it to not only avoid the pain of not having an income… but for the pleasure of having comfort with the money it brings. I realize this doesn’t cover everyone; however, if you’re making over minimum wage and have some skills, assets, and network then you work for pleasure not just to avoid pain.
I just think that when you focus on pleasurable experiences (aka feeling happy) it makes life better. I also know people that are really close to me who find it hard to live the beautiful life all the time. Fine. Stress is not easy to handle. All this is on my mind because as I start to build Key Bridge in a different way, more experiential to accompany business services, I am rolling around the motto “pursuit of profit, progress, and pleasure.” Why can’t we have all three?