[Book Excerpt] Live Free or DIY: How to get more customers, increase profits, and achieve work-life balance as a small-business owner

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[Book Excerpt] Live Free or DIY: How to get more cus­tom­ers, increase profits, and achieve work-life bal­ance as a small-busi­ness own­er

I’ve been get­ting requests recently from vari­ous pub­lic­a­tions for per­mis­sion to post an excerpt from my inter­na­tion­al best­selling book Live Free or DIY. So I thought my friends on Linked­In might appre­ci­ate a peek of their own. Below is an excerpt from Chapter 11.

About the Book

Live Free or DIY is the time-starved small-busi­ness owner’s sur­viv­al guide.

From start-up to growth to pivot­ing in a chan­ging mar­ket­place, Live Free or DIY reveals how small-busi­ness own­ers in every industry encoun­ter the same road­b­locks — and how the solu­tions are sim­pler than you think. Wheth­er wrest­ling with strategies for attract­ing cus­tom­ers, grow­ing rev­en­ue, deal­ing with red tape, or get­ting the most out of every twenty-four hours, Live Free or DIY is an ultra-prac­tic­al guide that will free small-busi­ness own­ers from the do-it-your­self trap, and unleash the kind of explos­ive growth you’ve only dreamed about.

Excerpt from Chapter 11: How to Double Your Profits by Mak­ing a Sim­ple Tweak to Your Work­flow

“The invis­ib­il­ity of work and work­ers in the Digit­al Age is as con­sequen­tial as the rise of the assembly line.”” — George Pack­er, Amer­ic­an Journ­al­ist
Do you know what is the all-around most com­mon com­plaint I hear from small-busi­ness own­ers?

That they can’t find good people.

It is hard to find good staff; at least, it’s hard if you need to trust them with a ton of com­plex work and you’re not able to pay them a whole lot for all that respons­ib­il­ity.

As it turns out, Henry Ford had the same prob­lem. Appar­ently, it was pretty dif­fi­cult — may­be even down­right impossible — to find a crafts­man who could build an auto­mobile from scratch, nev­er mind the fact that Ford couldn’t offer much pay if he was going to make cars that were afford­able for the every­day con­sumer while also keep­ing his oper­a­tion in the black.

That’s pre­cisely when he had his big idea, and the assembly line was born. He real­ized it wasn’t dif­fi­cult to find good people who could put togeth­er com­pon­ent parts as one step in an assembly line that they didn’t even have to fully under­stand, much less, fully execute. Ford’s solu­tion was a cre­at­ive new way of using labor while also har­ness­ing avail­able tech­no­logy.

And that’s exactly what we’re doing in this chapter. Just the way the last chapter applied the wis­dom of the first Indus­tri­al Revolu­tion to auto­mate what used to be done by hand, we’re now going to com­bine the wis­dom of the assembly line with cut­ting-edge tech­no­logy in order to fun­da­ment­ally rethink the way busi­ness gets done. The goal is to make your team more effi­cient, cost-effect­ive, and prof­it­able than ever before.

Am I say­ing you should run your busi­ness like an assembly line? Actu­ally, yes— though you’ll see, over the course of this chapter, that it doesn’t mean turn­ing your staff into a team of mind­less drones. It’s the oppos­ite, actu­ally. Thanks to tech­no­logy, your team shouldn’t really be doing any mind­less labor. What should they be doing instead? Help­ing to grow your busi­ness in ways that are spe­cific to their skill sets and your needs. We’ll get to that in a minute, but first, we’re going to explore how tech­no­logy makes it all pos­sible.

The new value chain changes everything.

It used to be that big busi­nesses had a con­sid­er­able advant­age over smal­ler com­pet­it­ors thanks to their enorm­ous staff. So many employ­ees allowed for very focused spe­cial­iz­a­tion — each employ­ee had his or her tiny domain — which was far more effi­cient than hav­ing employ­ees do a little bit of everything. And that effi­ciency trans­lated into a big advant­age.

If that sounds a lot like an assembly line, it’s because the fun­da­ment­al idea is the same. In today’s par­lance, this is the con­cept of break­ing up the value chain — that is, rely­ing on increas­ingly focused spe­cial­ists to do very spe­cific tasks, and then put­ting their work togeth­er to yield a less expens­ive fin­ished pro­duct. In the past, only big busi­nesses were able to break up the value chain, because a big staff was a basic ingredi­ent. A small enter­prise could nev­er afford it, nor would they have enough spe­cial­ized work to occupy a full- or even part-time staffer’s time. And that’s why even ten years ago, this con­cept was almost irrel­ev­ant for small-busi­ness own­ers.

Not any­more.

Tech­no­logy means you’re no longer lim­ited to the con­fines of your office build­ing, and you no longer need job descrip­tions sub­stant­ive enough to jus­ti­fy a com­mute. These revolu­tion­ary changes give you untold flex­ib­il­ity in how to design your work­for­ce and work­flow. And I’m not just talk­ing about how e-mail and Skype make it pos­sible for your staff to work from home just as eas­ily as at the phys­ic­al office. That’s cer­tainly true — and there’s a remote work­for­ce revolu­tion under­way — but I’m talk­ing about some­thing much, much big­ger.

I’m talk­ing about what I call the com­mod­it­iz­a­tion of bor­ing.”

Entre­pren­eurs around the world have examined busi­ness pro­cesses with a fine-tooth comb, look­ing for tasks being done over and over again by a lot of people. And they’re doing that because those tasks rep­res­ent an oppor­tun­ity for spe­cial­iz­a­tion — for a com­pany to do one little thing, and to do it bet­ter than any­one else. They’re turn­ing bor­ing, repeat­able tasks into a com­mod­ity by provid­ing out­sourced ser­vices, so busi­nesses nev­er have to do those things intern­ally ever again. There are more of these B2Bbusi­ness-to-busi­ness—com­pan­ies pop­ping up all the time, and they exist for no oth­er reas­on but to help your busi­ness out­source bor­ing tasks at a cost of pen­nies.

The last chapter intro­duced you to a vari­ety of such com­pan­ies. I’ve already men­tioned how Ruby Recep­tion­ists can handle your phone calls. Mean­while, the com­pany Bench.co can do your book­keep­ing, and Zir­tu­al will provide you with an ultra-effi­cient per­son­al assist­ant for a frac­tion of what you’d pay for even the most part-time staff.

But how about short yet import­ant tasks like spru­cing up your web­site or writ­ing copy for a bro­chure? Sites like Upwork instantly con­nect you to a pool of tens of thou­sands of freel­an­cers who per­form very spe­cific ser­vices — Web design and devel­op­ment, writ­ing, and much more — while also allow­ing you to see how oth­er busi­ness own­ers have rated their past work.

This dir­ectly addresses the num­ber-one con­cern that I men­tioned at the start of the chapter: find­ing good people. The new paradigm is both quint­es­sen­tially twenty-first cen­tury and groun­ded in Henry Ford’s assembly line: It’s a lot easi­er to find good people when you’re trust­ing them with a very spe­cific task, when you can eas­ily see how well they’ve done in the past, and when you can quickly assess wheth­er or not they’re doing sat­is­fact­ory work for you. That’s why Upwork, and oth­er sim­il­ar sites, makes it easi­er than ever to get work done effi­ciently, regard­less of how big or small your busi­ness is.

In oth­er words, there’s noth­ing hold­ing you back from cre­at­ing a work­flow that’s every bit as intel­li­gent and effi­cient as one at a For­tune 500 com­pany (or even bet­ter). You have a digit­al uni­verse of afford­able human and tech­no­lo­gic­al resources at your fin­ger­tips.

Mak­ing your busi­ness com­pet­it­ive in today’s mar­ket­place means cap­it­al­iz­ing on all those resources, and doing that means scru­tin­iz­ing every link in the value chain of your busi­ness down to its smal­lest com­pon­ent parts. You can then determ­ine the best way to execute each task, and thus design the most effi­cient work­flow, just like Ford did.

For Ford, that meant break­ing up every task between design­ing at the draw­ing board and put­ting rub­ber on the road. For a neigh­bor­hood pizza shop, the pro­cess of break­ing up the value chain might look entirely dif­fer­ent, though the under­ly­ing wis­dom is the same. And when I foun­ded my inter­na­tion­al ship­ping com­pany sev­er­al years ago, I used the same logic in order to dis­sect the tra­di­tion­al job of a ves­sel plan­ner. I saw the stand­ard job descrip­tion in our industry had experts spend­ing a lot of time send­ing e-mail and only a little time on the high-value work of draft­ing stow­age plans. I broke up the pro­cess: I cre­ated a part-time admin­is­trat­ive pos­i­tion for hand­ling e-mail, then had the experts focus on cre­at­ing great stow­age plans at a frac­tion of the cost of our com­pet­it­ors.