The Importance of Focus – by Jon

Focus, focus, focus. It’s a mantra we often hear but what does it really mean? Particularly, what does it mean in a business sense for us small business owners?

Here’s my interpretation and an exhortation from me to put it into your business context and ask yourself – do we have focus?

I’m going to talk (write?) about three distinct types of focus, all important for us.

• Focusing ourselves and our time
• Focusing our businesses
• Focusing our marketing

Focusing ourselves and our time

In this modern working day, we are constantly interrupted by phone calls, mobile phone calls, text messages, emails, employees (why can’t they just get on with their work?), customers (very tempted to make a joke here) and sometime even our partners and our kids.

(Who saw that excellent TV show “Very Small Business”?
Quote: “I’m trying to run a business here, I haven’t got time to be their father as well”)

That’s before we allow Facebook, MySpace, eBay and instant messaging from our friends to break our concentration. Sometimes (and I swear some people do this) I think I could spend the whole day just fiddling about with stuff like this and end up getting nothing done at all. If you are nodding now, then I don’t think you are alone.

On top of the culture of interruption we find ourselves in, we have to contend with a workplace and a business environment that makes myriad demands on our time and attention. If you sat down and made a list of all the things you have to get to over the next few days, I bet you wouldn’t be able to fit it all on one page!

So, there’s the difficulty of focusing on what are the important tasks, too, not to mention taking time to think about where your business should be going and what you should be doing to drive it in that direction.

If you don’t consciously focus your time on making sure you attend to the important things – the ones that will help you succeed, then it’s very easy to find all your time taken up by urgent but non-essential activities or by fiddling about with the other stuff.

Some simple ideas for helping you get some focus back from this demanding world:

• Turn off the email notifications, so you don’t jump up and read every piece of spam that comes into your inbox. Better still, turn your email off for a couple of hours at a time so you can get things done.
• Same for phones, mobile phones and your office door (shut the door, I know you can’t turn them off, unless you are in a spaceship). Tell people you are doing this and make sure they understand that there will be a time when you will speak to them or return their calls.
• Write a list of the tasks you have to get to. It will frustrate you but the next part is much more fun. For each one, either do it, ditch it or delegate it – straight away, no deferring!
o If it’s not vital for your business or if someone else can deal with it, get rid of it – ditch or delegate. Be ruthless. Most of it is rubbish anyway.

(Try this: anything that you feel like deferring, defer it into a file you can ignore or a pile on your desk. If it is important, someone will get back to you. Really, they will!)

• Put the important things at the top of the list or on a separate list called “Important Jobs” (Sorry). Then make time to do the important ones and let some of the other stuff slip.

This is called prioritisation and I think it is an increasingly important part of business practice. You will never get everything done – the work multiplies to fill and then overfill the time you have available to do work. It’s no use working harder – work makes more work, anyway.

Accept the fact that you won’t get through it all then get used to the idea that not doing it all is OK and your business won’t fail. Then do some of the important stuff rather than wasting all your time on the rubbish.

Focus your Business:

Your business is probably good at something specific and you’ve built it on that basis. However, it’s very tempting (and sometimes even a good idea) to expand horizontally (business double speak for selling the same people something else). The problem comes when your business loses its focus. Your salespeople need to know where to spend their time and what to be talking to customers about. Your systems and operational staff can struggle if you introduce too much complexity into what they have to do and you can add costs by adding complexity – to inventory, to price lists and margins and pretty much everywhere.

As I said, it’s tempting to think that the relationship you have built with your customers means you have an opportunity to sell them something else and, in fairness, there is some truth in this. However, it is also easy to ignore the costs involved in distracting yourself from what your business is good at. If you go too far with this, you add costs to your business and the reduction in focus may mean that your business does none of it well – not even the core business that got you there in the first place.

Learn from the mistakes made by some of the larger companies in Australia.
Optus tried its hand at cable TV, thinking that its cable network and national reach made this an easy up-sell (“Do you want cable with that?”). It didn’t work out, did it? And it took valuable resources and attention away from the main game of selling telephony and mobiles.

If you expand your range of products or services to allow your business to up-sell and cross-sell and leverage those trusting relationships you’ve built with your customers, make sure you expand into things that complement what you do and that it makes sense for your business to be offering in addition to your core business.

This leads me neatly into my next point:

Focus your marketing:

If your business is not clear about what it does, how can you expect your customers to be clear? If they aren’t clear about what you do, chances are they won’t bother trying to work it out but move on to the next easy choice instead.

Similarly, if your business is not clear about who your customers are, they won’t be clear about it either – see the results above.

Make sure you understand what you are and to whom you are addressing your marketing and talk to them in their language.

You can’t be all things to all men. It’s tempting (that word again) to not want to exclude anyone from being your customer but your marketing will end up saying nothing to anybody and, again, they will pass you by for someone who is speaking directly to them.

So maintain your focus – focus your time on the important jobs and don’t allow yourself to run around like a headless chicken all day long; focus your business on what it does best and related things and don’t rush of to do the next great idea; and focus your marketing so it says something specific to specific people. (preferably something about what your core business is!!)

A final footnote – the global financial crisis and the doom and gloom news from every corner is a huge distraction. Don’t let it take over your thinking, don’t jump into knee-jerk responses and………………………stay focused!

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See you later.

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