The Kade Wilcox Podcast: 5 Common Threads in Small Business
June 29, 2021
If you’re really looking to dig your heels into growth, then you have to intentionally stop and reflect on what you’ve learned.
In this episode, Kade goes solo and weighs in on the five most common threads of small business owners he’s noticed from his own experience, as well as what he’s learned from the experiences of others.
Explore all five with Kade, only on this week’s episode of The Kade Wilcox Podcast.
Connect with the folks behind the episode: Kade Wilcox
Welcome to The Kade Wilcox podcast. I'm Kade Wilcox, your host, and I love small business. I love the leaders who lead small businesses. I love the journey of starting a new company and figuring out how to manage people and culture and vision and operations and finances and sales and marketing. And so on our podcast, we feature local small business owners and we learn from them — what's going well, what's not going well, things they've learned throughout their journey. So thanks for joining the podcast and enjoy learning from others who are in the trenches and doing the work.
Hey guys, welcome to The Kade Wilcox Podcast. This week it's just going to be a solo episode. I've had the unique opportunity recently and just kind of talked to a lot of different small business owners. And there's so many common threads, you know, with every conversation I have. And so I just — as I've had these conversations, I've really tried to listen and to learn. And then I've reflected on over my 10 years of experience building businesses, and managing them, and leading them. And I just wanted to give some insight and maybe some things to consider for the small business owner who's at a season where maybe they're extremely busy, maybe they're overwhelmed, or maybe they're just kind of struggling, keeping up with all the moving parts. And so I just wanted to offer some encouragement, and there's five things I want to talk about in this episode that have certainly helped me. And maybe they'll help you.
Anytime I give advice, or anytime I give feedback, I try to acknowledge the fact that what works for me will not necessarily work for you. But what I hope will happen is as you're listening to these ideas and these things that you could consider, is that hopefully they will spark in your mind what works best for you.
So what works for me may not directly impact you. Maybe it's not something that you want to do, but maybe it will serve you in the sense that it will create this idea in your mind. And it'll help you explore certain things that will help you in your own business. And so I hope this encourages you and more than anything helps you be effective in your role as owner and leader and oftentimes wearing many hats in your business. So here we go.
Vision, Vision, Vision
First thing is to have a clear vision. Have a clear vision. I know sometimes vision can almost be an idea similar to culture where it's kind of nebulous. It's kind of gray. It's not exactly clear, maybe, what vision means or how it actually, and pragmatically impacts, you know, your business from a day to day perspective. But having a clear vision is really, really critical.
It's really as simple as this, if you do not know where you are going, if you do not have a vision of where you are going, then the path to getting from where you are to where you want to go, or you need to go, is going to be very rocky. And so if you don't have a vision for your organization and where you're going in the next six months or the next 12 months, or the next 18 months, or the next five years — even if that vision is simple, like, even if it just means two or three priorities or two or three goals that you have — if you do not have that vision, then your path from where you are to where you're trying to go is going to be very rocky because it's directionless; you have no direction. And so it's going to be very difficult.
And again, not only is this coming out of my own experience of primarily failure over the last 10 years, but every conversation I have with leaders and with business owners, when I ask this very simple question of like, "Well, what do you really want? Like, what do you want out of your organization in the next 12 months or 18 months or five years?" The answers are very scattered. They're very distracted, if you were. They're not cohesive. There's no clarity to the vision. And so the first thing I would encourage you to do is to develop a clear vision, even if it's simple and even if it's just in the short term, you have to have a direction.
Focus on a Plan
The second thing I would suggest is focusing on a plan. Again, recently, the conversations I've had — and it's not like every small business owner is scattered and not focused and, you know, overwhelmed. That's certainly not true. But the reality is a lot are. And I think one of the results, or one of the reasons rather that they are distracted and they always feel overwhelmed, is because they don't actually have a plan that they focus on. The reality of being a small business owner — you know, someone who has two to 20, or two to 50 employees, is that in almost every case, that leader is wearing more than one hat. Oftentimes they're wearing three or four or five hats and oftentimes small business owners, because it's their life, tend to be real control freaks with almost every element of their business. And recently these conversations I've been having, this has been the case. And I think one of the things that contributes to feeling overwhelmed and being distracted is that one, a plan — like literally just a plan for how you're executing your business and how you're serving your clients and how you're accomplishing your goals — it does not exist. And in the rare instances, it does exist, there is no focus related to that plan.
And so in your life, in every realm of your life, whether it's your physical health, whether it's your financial health, whether it's your spiritual health, whether it's leading your small business and running your small business, if you do not have a plan of action, again, you're not going, you know, you're not going to be effective because you're just being reactive to everything versus being proactive. You know, life is happening to you. Your business is happening to you versus you happening to your business. And that is a real distinction between a healthy organization and an effective organization, and one that's not. That is a real distinction and a real difference between a leader that is calm and collective and has a peace about their life, versus one that's overwhelmed and just seems to be going from one fire to the next fire and one, you know, crisis to the next crisis.
And so do you have a plan? Again, I mean, you know, there are all kinds of ways to plan. So I'm not even necessarily saying how you should plan or what your plan should include. But having a plan is essential. And starting there if you're experiencing chaos or overwhelm is a really good place to start. And this is true. And this is what I love about running businesses. So much about running a business is applicable to every area of life. Or said another way, every area of your life impacts and is applicable to your business. And so if you don't have a plan for your spiritual life, if you don't have a plan for your physical life, if you don't have a plan for your relational life, if you don't have a plan for your finances, it's going to greatly, negatively impact every area of those aspects of your life. It's no different with your business. And so, number one, have a clear vision. Number two, focus on a plan. How are you going to literally get from where you are to where you want to go?
Empower Your Team
The third thing, and this has been so powerful in my own experience, is to empower your team. Empower your team. There's so many reasons why this is critical. Number one, you only have so much time and emotional energy to contribute to your business. You only have so many unique skills, you know, that you possess that are going to help impact your business. And so the more you empower your team, the more you're going to create an environment that promotes success in your organization. It's going to impact your own leadership because instead of having seven responsibilities, it's going to allow you to only focus on the responsibilities that you — you know, you make the most impact in, right?
And it's going to transform, you know, your experience of being overwhelmed, because you release other people to do work. Not only does this practically save you time because you have less work, but even more importantly than saving time, it's that the reality of it is, is that when you hire the right people, and you empower them to do the work you've hired them to do, 99% of the time they're going to do it vastly better than you can. So not only does it save you time, not only does it reduce the burden of wearing multiple hats, which is nice, but even more importantly, it's going to make a greater impact.
I'll give you some very practical examples from my own leadership journey. Two years ago, I was responsible for pretty much, you know, all things related to sales and operations and hiring and things of that nature. Today I'm really only responsible for leading our organization from a vision standpoint, speaking into, and really you know, focusing on our culture and supporting Annie in her role there, and I'm responsible for sales. That's it. And it's made a huge impact. Empowering Annie, our chief of staff, who's a licensed counselor, who's remarkably relational and good with people — it's been unbelievable for our organization to hire her and empower her to really steward and advocate for our culture and for our people. So it did two things for me: save me a lot of time, but way more importantly than my time, it puts someone in a position that 10 out of 10 times is better dealing with culture and relational issues within our company than I will ever be.
Same thing with our COO, Jess. She is so much better at systems and processes and operational development and ensuring that we're delivering a great service to our client than I could ever even dream about being. And two years ago, I did all that. I was responsible for all of it and did a half-ass job. Now we have Jess in there. So again, does it save me time? Yes. But even more importantly, serves our team more effectively, serves our clients more effectively, helps us be more profitable, helps us be more innovative. I mean, it helps us in a hundred different ways. So are you empowering your team? Are you empowering your team? Where can you do that better? You know, who can lead in your organization that's not currently a leader? What challenges are you experiencing? What aspects of your business are really struggling and who in your organization, who on your team, which one of your teammates could take that thing and really own it and help move the organization forward in a way that you'll never be able to, because you either lack the skill or you lack the time?
So clear vision, focus on a plan, empower your team.
Execute on the Fundamentals
Fourth is to execute on the fundamentals. Man, this is a big deal. Recently I've hired several different landscaping type companies and it's been a real struggle. And it is because, in my humble opinion, they do not execute on the fundamentals. They do not communicate effectively when they do show up, the quality of their work is not very good, and so you have to keep calling them and you have to keep getting them to come back. They do not follow through. And so when I think of any business, it does not literally matter what industry or what type of business it is, when you execute on the fundamentals, you are immediately positioning yourself for great success. Because the reality of it is most small businesses are not good at the fundamentals.
So evaluate your own business. How are you performing on the fundamentals of business? Just good, basic communication, good quality work. Good follow-through. I recently had a metal building built. And my experience with a contractor was everything my experience with landscapers hasn't been. He follows through. So anytime I call or leave a voicemail or text, he follows up very quickly. As I was traveling, they were building the barn. You know, once or twice a week, he would just proactively send a text message with a photo saying, "Hey, we're making great progress." At the end of each week, he would say, "Hey, just so you know, you know, the concrete guy's a couple of days behind. He wasn't able to come this Friday, but he will be here next Monday." Like he was proactive in his communication. The quality of their work is really, really good. He follows through.
So when he says, you know, "We're going to be here on Monday." Guess what? They're there on Monday. Again, these are very basic fundamentals of business, but they make a huge, huge difference.
Here's the most powerful thing to me in my own personal experience, but also just as a consumer. Here's a powerful thing about executing on the fundamentals. When I'm dealing with with someone I hire or a business I'm dealing with or whatever, when I'm working with them, and they're really good at just the fundamentals — communication, follow-through, quality, you know, relational qualities, things like this — when they're good at those things, when there's a problem or a mistake, I am much more likely to be patient and empathetic and understanding and forgiving when they execute on the fundamentals. But when I'm dealing with a contractor or a business or a service provider and they're not any good at the fundamentals, and we're constantly having problems, and conflict is constantly arising, I just — it makes the situation really difficult and it just creates a lot of conflict. It creates a lot of chaos. And so executing on the fundamentals is a really, really big deal.
And here's my last piece of advice. So number one, clear, clear vision. Number two, focus on a plan. Number three, empower your team. Number four, execute on the fundamentals. And then fifth, and lastly, is to create space.
I believe that leaders — small business owners — really struggle with intentionally creating space to think, to dream, to plan, to be proactive versus reactive. Again, it's as simple as we often allow life to happen to us. We allow our business to happen to us and we're not in control, right? And, certainly the way the nature of life is you're never completely in control.
There are times where things are out of your control, but I am a huge believer that we should control everything we can control and be as proactive as we can be knowing that it's not completely in our hands. But someone who is doing that, who has a good plan, is far more likely to have control, you know, than not have control. And so same thing with your time: are you creating space? It doesn't have to be long. Sometimes my calendar is so full I can't fit in it, you know, a two-hour time block, you know, to daydream or to plan on my whiteboard. So what I have to do is I have to be more creative. You know, instead of watching TV at night, I have to spend that 30 minutes, you know, creating space there, or maybe instead of listening to a podcast when I'm on a 60-minute run, maybe I just, I identify something I want to think through. And I am disciplined, and as I'm running, I'm thinking about that thing. Or instead of listening to a podcast or music in my 20-minute drive from my home to my downtown office, instead of listening to anything, maybe identify something I really want to think through.
So it's not like, you know, what I'm advocating for is this idealistic thing where half of your week is spent just, you know, daydreaming and planning, although that's good time spent if you can pull it off. But you can do this in other ways. You can get creative about how you are as the leader, the owner of the business — if you don't think and dream about your business, who will? If you do not create a strategic plan for your business and how you want to accomplish your goals and objectives, who will? If you are not proactive in your business, then who will be responsible for that?
And so I think you have to be accountable to yourself and to your people, and to your future success, by creating space where you have no agenda. I mean, maybe you have an idea of what you want to think about or work on, but that you just allow the creativity of leadership and the space and the quietness of this time to help you become a better leader, to help you think about what you want aspirationally from your organization and business, to help you think about a plan of action. That's going to help you go from where you are to where you want to go. So you have to create space.
So I hope this encourages you. Again, I'm not one of those people who think that every single business leader is overwhelmed and, you know, they're always struggling and they're all — it's always chaotic. You know, certainly there are some really effective leaders, really effective business owners who do these things really well. But this, again, the sad reality is, a lot aren't and a lot aren't in a healthy place. And if that's you, I think that, you know, thinking through these five things will go a long ways in helping you, you know, move your small business forward and more than anything, help your business be a blessing — to your team, number one, to your clients, number two, and to yourself, if it's healthy and it's organized, and it's a blessing and not a curse.
And so I hope this has been encouraging to you. I would love to hear from you. You can shoot me a message on LinkedIn. You can email me. You can give me a call. All that information is really easy to find. Go to KadeWilcox.com, fill out the contact us form. It doesn't matter how, to me, how you reach out. But if you're struggling through something, if you need someone to collaborate with or brainstorm with I would love to do that with ya. So reach out if I can serve you in any way. And again, thanks for listening to the podcast.
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