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What can you stop doing?

WHAT are you going to ‘stop doing’ in 2007? More important than your annual ‘to do’ list is a list of what you’re going to stop doing. And I admit, this is a much, much tougher decision, which is why it’s worth making. It’s easy to make a list of 75 things you need to accomplish this coming year, but what are the five you’re going to eliminate? New Year’s Day five years ago, I decided to stop a $2 million piece of our business that affected a lot of our affiliates and customers. It wasn’t an easy decision. And though it cut my revenues in half, it freed us up to pursue much more lucrative opportunities, which by the following year allowed us to almost double our revenues and triple our profitability over the previous 12 months. It’s hard to start something new if you don’t stop something else. So take out a piece of paper and make the tough decisions (and send out an email to your team to solicit their thoughts). What products and services should you stop supporting? What under-performing offices should you shutter? What customers should you politely send to your competition? Which associate(s) on your team made last year less than fun and should have their “future(s) freed up?” One client a few years ago even decided to stop their entire firm. The executives looked around the table at the talent they possessed versus the results they were achieving and realised they had built a dumb business with no viable economic model moving forward. Surely they could build something better if they jettisoned the preverbal boat anchor around their collective necks. They did, and the boss and his team are in a much better situation today. And it’s an equally important question to ask personally. Make a list of those parts of your job that weigh you down energy and time-wise and figure out how to delegate, eliminate, or outsource to someone else. Pick one thing right now. This past year my team integrated this exercise into our weekly meeting agenda. We attempt each week to identify one thing we should stop doing that will make the company run smoother and our jobs easier. As I’m writing this, we decided this morning to stop dealing with a certain supplier and find a replacement. David Rich, CEO of ICC/Decisions Services, a leader in mystery shopper programs, took an entire quarter and had his headquarters team of 14 focus on activities they could stop doing. Within 90 days they found 160 hours/week of work they were able to eliminate. That’s the equivalent of four full-time positions for an almost 30 per cent boost in capacity. And along the way they found $8,000 per month in bottom-line expense savings. One big ‘stop doing’ was an extensive report they generated every day, which they found no-one needed. Interestingly, the best test that you have a viable strategy (viable being the key word) is that you and your firm says “no” more than “yes”. The best example is Southwest Airlines. With a market cap bigger than all the other US airlines combined, they only serve 69 locations. They’ve been extremely selective in their expansion plans over the 35 years they’ve operated, saying no to Denver 20 years ago before finally deciding to re-enter the market in 2006. Unless your firm is less than five years old, in which case you need to say yes to everything and everyone you can, it’s time to start saying no more often. Once you realise, as the leader of your firm, that saying no is one of the most important aspects of your job, you’ll be much better off. The same for your role as a parent, but I’ll save that conversation for another time. Copyright © 2006 Verne Harnish. All Rights Reserved. •Verne Harnish was named one of the Top 10 Minds in Small Business by Fortune Small Business. In a one-day seminar on Friday March 2 2007, Verne Harnish will provide those attending the WA Business News seminar practical tools fast-growing companies can use to create focus, alignment, better communication and a winning strategy.

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