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How to eat an elephant

Business Systems

4 min read

There’s an old joke that goes: How do you eat an elephant? Well, one bite at a time of course!

Maybe you’ve heard that in relation to business ownership too: “Having a business is like eating an elephant.” Over the years, I’ve worked with business owners from many different industries, with businesses of all shapes and sizes. There is a common sentiment when we begin working together, and it goes something like this:

There’s just too much! I need to make sure my clients are taken care of. I need to make all the sales calls. I need to talk to the newspaper about the ad. I need to make sure the bills get paid (On time? Don’t make me laugh!). And somehow—in the midst of all that—I have to perform a small miracle to get my employees to show up to work on time and do their jobs. How can I possibly do all that? I don’t have time to sit down and develop all these systems, scripts, forms and standards. It would take me a solid six weeks of work just to get this place organized!

Does that sound familiar? Can you hear some of yourself in that tirade? You’re not alone. Every business owner since the beginning of time has struggled with how to do it. How do they develop their business, when they can barely get it to run in the first place?

I’m sorry, but I have some bad news for you. You can’t. You will probably never find the time to do it all, if you’re focused on how to do it. Why? Because your focus is off. It doesn’t matter how many times you release your arrow of good intentions, you’ll never hit the target if you’re not aiming at it. Oh sure, you may get lucky every now and then, and hit the target out of sheer luck. It happens. But you’ll never achieve consistent, predictable results if you don’t take careful aim each time.

You can't hit a target if you're aiming at the sky

At the risk of seriously mixing my metaphors, that’s why you can’t eat that elephant: your aim is off. It’s not about how. It’s about what. The problem is not how to eat the elephant. It’s identifying the elephant in the first place. Once you’ve identified the elephant, then you can focus on having a system to prioritize where you’re going to start.

You need a vision of what your business will look like when the elephant has been eaten. Without the vision, nothing you do in your business will make much of a difference. You may make some small changes, and you may even see some good results of those changes. Everyone gets lucky, once in a while. But without the vision, your business will never truly become a great business. You have to stop focusing on the work, and start focusing on the results.

Focus on the results, not on the work

What is your vision of your business? What do you want it to look like?

As the a business owner, your most important job is the development of your vision. That’s it. It’s not taking care of your clients, it’s not making sales calls, it’s not advertising your services, it’s not paying the bills it’s not even managing your employees. Your job, your most important role, is defining what your business will look like when it’s finished, and effectively communicating that with your staff.

It can be a real struggle for some people. But think about it this way: this isn't about how you’re going to produce a widget. It’s not about how you’re going to deliver your widget to your customer. It’s not about how your employees are going to help you make your widgets the best on the market. You need to focus on the what. You need to focus on the vision. What is the widget going to do for your client? What will it look like? What is your promise to your customers? What will your employees feel like, coming to work every day? What will set your widget company apart from every other widget company out there? Focus on the results, not on the work.

Now you might be thinking, “I have a vision for my business, but my employees aren’t helping me achieve it!” Of course not. If your employees aren’t helping you achieve your vision, it’s because you haven’t effectively communicated that vision to them. They can’t help you hit the target if they don’t know where the target is. They can’t help you hit the target if they don’t know what it looks like.

Approach that elephant strategically

To determine what bite you need to take first, you need a strategy. With a defined strategy, you can choose where to start. What is your system for prioritizing? Without that system, you’ll get stuck in reactive mode. You’ll develop whatever system seems most important right at that moment. You’ll deal only with your biggest frustration that minute. And while you’re putting together a system to deal with that frustration, five more problems will show up, each seemingly more important, more vital to the survival of your business than the one you’ve started working on. You need a system to prioritize. You have to pick and choose your battles.

At EMyth, we use the Seven Essential Systems. Each System focuses on a key element in your business. Whether you know it or not, your business does each and every one of these seven things: Leadership, Management, Finance, Marketing, Lead Generation, Lead Conversion and Customer Fulfillment. If you take that elephant that is your business, and break it up into those Seven Essential Systems, you’ll start to see how to take smaller bites.

Which System needs the most attention in your business this week? Focus there. Spend an hour thinking about all the systems you will need for that and write them down. Rate them on a scale of 1-10: which is more important than another? Sort your list by the most important ones, and select just one system to develop right now. Repeat this process regularly, starting each time with the question: “Which System needs the most attention in my business this week?”

Take small bites out of your elephant. Take the right bites. But most importantly, determine what your elephant will look like when you’ve eaten the whole thing this will help keep you focused on the results, not the work.

EMyth Team

Written by EMyth Team

We share free resources and stories from our clients, Coaches and team members about how to build a business that serves your life. Our posts will give you updates on our business insights and free educational content.

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