I’d like to share with you one of my favorite tools with you called, ‘Start, Stop and Continue.’ And this is a great tool to get you focused on what's most important in your business life. And this also applies to your personal life. But, let’s focus now on your business life. Whether you're an entrepreneur, or a business person at any level, you should be doing this a minimum of once a year. I suggest that you utilize this tool anytime you are feeling overwhelmed, defocused or just scattered.
This is a pretty popular tool, so you might have used it before. But don't stop ready yet because I really want you to take 10 minutes and work through the exercise with me because I am certain you will get some new insights and focus about your business. I am going to guide you step-by-step through the process asking you a bunch of leading questions that will really get you to think through what you need to start, stop and continue.
One important point I want to make is to be sure that you are actually doing this exercise as opposed to just reading passively. Pull out a piece of paper, a pen, or your favorite digital note taking tool, and follow along with me. The key purpose of this exercise is to optimize your business, so stay focused. So let's get started on ‘Start, Stop and Continue’.
Let’s start off with some questions to stimulate your brain a bit. What do you want to do that you're not currently doing? What do you want to start doing that you're not currently doing? Are the conditions in your business, at this time, appropriate to embrace a new idea, a new product or a new initiative? Perhaps it might not be the right time to start something big, but you might find some small things that could help the business right now.
Ensure business conditions are right, because you need to have some foundation to move this thing forward, and understand what makes the most sense for you to execute on. Ask yourself, what are the things on the top of your list you need to execute on? And then, what opportunities must you take advantage of now? What I mean by that is you really can't live without taking advantage of opportunities that present themselves. Where's that burning desire that says, “I’ve got to do this; I have to take this on?” Those are those opportunities that I want to make sure that we capture.
I am going to give you some leading questions to help remove the blockers that may be limiting your thinking. First, if money was not a factor where would you invest? I get it, money is always a factor, but I want you to take off those blinders off for just a second.
Another question I like to ask is, “If I could hire one additional person, what project or initiative would I have them work on?” Because, that's probably the project or initiative you would do next. The take-away on this is creating a list of new ideas that will move your business forward. Let me pose a couple of examples here. First of all, these are random ideas I've come up with that may not apply to you directly, but they'll give you an idea what I mean when I say “Start.” I want to raise one million dollars of capital to fund my expansion, that's a “start” activity. So, I'm going to direct my attention to raising one million dollars in capital to get my business off the ground, or to its next level.
Maybe I want to use the money to add some new products to my product line or add a value-added service that will help educate customers. Or, maybe I want to improve my margins by 10 or build a loyalty program. Or, maybe just invest in a monthly staff meeting that I haven't been doing before. Those things can actually make me more efficient. You’ve got to be doing a monthly staff meeting or bringing your team together on a regular basis, right? So, let's go on to “stop” now.
I love “Stop” because this is going to remove the clutter that prevents us from doing what truly drives your business forward. This will help you to stop doing those things you really don't need to be doing. Here are some great questions to ask yourself. First, what are you doing now that you absolutely know you need to stop doing? What is distracting you from your core purpose? Do you know the core purpose of your business? Let me tell you my core purpose of my business. It is to make revenue. And anything that isn't making revenue in my business, I should stop doing.
Now that doesn't mean I should ignore my customers, or I should stop building product. No, because all of that feeds into my revenue, of course. But deep inside, you know that those ancillary things you’re doing in your business are a waste of time. They are not really driving any revenue. Well, if they’re not driving revenue, you could hope they will help build my brand over time. But you need to be able to get to that point where that brand means something. If you're a smaller business, concentrate on driving revenue first. The next question I would ask is, “where are you or your company being unproductive?” What are those things that you're doing that you just don't need to be doing?
Here’s another important question; What activities, processes or behaviors are hurting your customer experience? Those could be causing your customers to feel you're putting them on hold for three hours, if they are not well thought out and solid. What are those processes that you're doing that you probably need to stop doing or fix?
Along with that, what things do you need to stop doing to make room for things that are more productive? Here are some leading questions to help stimulate your brain. Ask yourself this, “What activities would I stop doing if I had two hours less in the day?” I love this question as it will get you focused very quickly. If I had two hours less than a day, would I be writing this article, or would I be cruising LinkedIn as long as I am, or whatever. Well, the truth be told, I do like to sit on LinkedIn as I think it’s a valuable exercise, but whatever it is for you if you had to collapse your day.
Next, ask yourself, “Which activities do I routinely put at the bottom of my to-do list?” My recommendation is perhaps if they're at the bottom of your to-do list, they need to come off the to-do list. The takeaway here is simply, which activities must you stop doing? Attack and pare that list of activities you should stop doing. Example are those useless or long meetings that you should avoid, but feel obliged to attend. No more.
Perhaps you need to stop providing so many discounts if you're, say, a B2B company, and rather turn your focus to the value instead. Not all of these are physical activities. Some of these are policies or strategies that you need to stop doing, as well. Here’s a personal example… maybe you need to stop doing your own accounting. Yes, I am guilty of this. I'm the worst accountant in the world, yet I do my own accounting because I'm cheap… I need to stop doing it. Obviously, it's a waste of time and I can get somebody else to do it. Maybe you have long lead times on inventory. Re-direct your time instead to figuring out how to fix that problem and stop those long lead times.
Let's get to the finish line with the last part of the over-arching idea, which is “continue.” This is the easiest one, by the way. What are those things you should continue in your business? I would encourage you to make sure you're clear about what you continue doing and don't stop doing. What is working in your business? Write those things down. What things are delighting your customers? Don't stop doing what's delighting your customers. Take note of them and write them down.
What things are making you money? Whatever's making you money, you may want to continue doing. And, what are those things that you must keep doing to drive the business forward? Here's a few, leading questions to think about. Where am I adding the most value to my customers? Which activities or responsibilities do I find most fulfilling? This is an important concept, because one of the things you or I actually find fulfilling, may not be 100% related to driving revenue…like is doing podcasts. I love doing podcasts. So, sometimes it's just okay to continue doing things even if they may not be 100% towards the core purpose of your business, which in my case, is driving revenue. It’s OK, there are exceptions to the rule.
Then, what are the key activities that are essential to the core purpose of your business or company culture that you must keep doing? You need the list of activities that you're assured to continue to keep doing. You want to ensure you keep doing these activities. Here are some examples of things that you should consider to continue to do in your business. First, email marketing works for me for me, so I’m going to continue to do that. Improving my operational efficiencies. I’ve made good progress in that area I want to continue to do that…how about you?
Offering exceptional quality on my products and services. I’ve been doing that since day one in my business, so I want to keep doing that as it is core to the overall success of the business. Driving innovation into the business. Yes, I want to keep doing that because it’s what's differentiated me from all my competitors. Maybe invest my profits back into the business. I’ll keep doing that. May I just want to work on continuing to improve my company culture. Because culture is important to me and it's going to help drive my business forward. And, guess what? Company culture will drive revenue as well.
Now that we're done with the core of the exercise, I hope that you took notes and will follow-through as it is really important to do so. Thinking about what you’ve learned and [hopefully] thought about, do you feel a little bit better about your direction and the activities you should and should not engage in? Are you excited about some of the things that you can “Start” doing that you may not have had room for before? And, are you relieved about those things that you can stop doing that really weren't productive anyway in your life?
I really hope you've enjoyed this exercise and found it valuable. If you did, share it with someone else, please. You’ll be doing them a favor, as well.
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