The month of January is just about over, and I've already broken some of my resolutions. I'm not sure why I bother. But knowing the month is gone is a good reminder that I still have time to make some great things happen this year.
As we enter February, I'd like to let you know a couple of things I learned last year. Perhaps they will serve as reminders to strengthen your 2014.
1. There Is No Better Fertilizer Than the Farmer's Shadow.
You need to be seen more by your team, your colleagues, and your advertisers. Get face-to-face more, get more heavily involved. Let them know what you're thinking. It's easy to get trapped by paperwork and your desk, and when we delegate (which we should), we sometimes lose touch with the street. How often do you have meaningful discussions with your salespeople and your advertisers?
2. Grow for Growth's Sake Isn't Always a Good Thing
In 2013 I got so obsessed with top-line growth that I stopped paying attention to bottom-line growth. Growth is a beautiful thing, but we must not forget that it's disruptive. In the last two years I tripled my staff count and infrastructure, stressed everyone, and in some ways found we were less productive or even hurting ourselves. We made three acquisitions in 2013 and found ourselves learning three new businesses at once. It meant more meetings, more to manage, bigger payroll, bigger risk, and less focus. Growth is a risk. Sometimes growth is worth it, sometimes it's a distraction. Think through the downsides carefully before you take on growth.
3. Incremental Growth Is Not Exciting
Author James Wedmore recently said this:
Creating goals to "double your revenue" or "have a 20% increase" (for example) forces you to use your past to drive your future actions. It's easy to compare yourself to what you did in the past, and conclude that working harder, or doing more of that, will result in more growth. Although that's true, that mentality comes with diminishing returns. You only have so many hours in the day and energy to keep you going. That strategy will result in an eventual plateau. So.... stop trying harder!
He goes on to say that the solution is quantum growth in your business (as in going from 1, 2, 3, 4, to 135), and it usually takes doing something very different. When I read this I was reminded of decades of a few points of growth in some parts of my business year after year. Boring. Last year I invented one event that revolutionized my business and dramatically increased our sales. It was a great lesson, and I'm trying to come up with more ideas like that, because repeating behavior isn't fun. Seems to me this is something the whole radio industry could use. What can you invent to give you 500% growth in one year?
4. Screen Time Is an Addiction and Not Always Productive
As I wrote in a recent column in Radio Ink, I refused to open my phone, e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, etc. over the entire Christmas break. I totally disconnected. The first days of withdrawal were tough. But the result was that I was well rested and my mind worked better than it had for months. Now I'm trying to turn it off on nights, weekends, and leisure time with family. Look up at any family in a restaurant and see everyone on their phones and no one interacting. Go to lunch with co-workers, and half the time is spent on a screen. We're better than that. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. It's true. Escape.
5. Stress Is Preventable
I carry lots of stress much of the time. I've realized that my job should be to create stress, not absorb it. Though I'm half joking, the things that stress me are preventable. Stress is almost always a result of someone dropping the ball, missing a deadline, or not having done enough planning. Stress from looming sales budgets is usually a result of poor preparation and planning. I'm convinced that, though I hate planning, I need to do more of it. I'm also convinced that people who continually miss their deadlines need to be removed from my work life. If they can't do their planning and manage their role, give someone who can do it a chance. People who don't do their jobs are stress-inducing. But before you fire someone, make sure that you've clearly communicated expectations and have reasonable goals.
I've also realized that saying yes causes stress. I hate to let people down, so I'll get talked into taking a meeting, do a speaking engagement, or, worst of all, getting on an airplane. For me, time out of office is counterproductive. My goal for 2014 is to say no more often (sorry, no offense) and travel less.
6. Education Is a Must
Stale crackers are never tasty, and stale leaders who repeat the same thought patterns will hurt their business. This is a time when the world is moving at a fast pace, and staying in the same place isn't good for your business or our industry. Read incessantly. Attend conferences. Join a mentoring group. Go to networking events with people outside your area of expertise. Force learning. You'll be more invigorated and your business will grow.
Two years ago my wife encouraged me to go to Dave Ramsey's EntreLeadership program. Honestly, I thought I already knew how to be an entrepreneur, but I learned so much from that course that my business has grown dramatically as a direct result of trying new ideas I learned there. I'm going to attend a Bitcoin conference soon, some tech conferences, and, yes, industry conferences. Oh, and actually attend. Networking and meetings are good, but if you think there is nothing you can learn, you're wrong.
7. You Need Healthy Distractions
Everyone needs a hobby and needs to spend time on it, whether it's woodworking, photography, painting, coin collecting, or something else. If your brain is always squeezed with business, the blood isn't flowing. At the gym they'll tell you to work a muscle group one day and not work it again for two or three days. Your brain is better with distractions. The harder I work, the more time I spend on my hobbies of painting and playing guitar. I intentionally schedule guitar lessons once a week or I'll never get around to it. I never cancel. I also schedule painting nights with others so I'm forced to attend. Believe it or not, it makes me more productive even though I'm up till the wee hours of the morning on my hobbies every night.
I'd love to know what you learned in 2013 and what you're working on for 2014. I hope you'll tell me in the comments section.