The Number One Productivity Tip for Small Business Owners and Independent Professionals

In an interview, Barbara Corcoran, businesswoman, speaker, consultant and “Shark” investor on CorcoranABC’s Shark Tank  said productivity comes down to one fundamental rule: – When setting priorities for your company, begin by repeating what has worked in the past before you try anything new.

This may sound simple but most entrepreneurs she’s worked with hadn’t sat down to figure out exactly what was working and not working in their businesses. Without that understanding, entrepreneurs can waste tons of time focusing on the wrong things.

Business insider’s Richard Feloni caught up with Corcoran at this year’s Canon Expo where she was doing promotions on behalf of Canon. “She gave a hypothetical example to illustrate her productivity tip. She asks an entrepreneur how he made a deal with a client who accounted for 20% of his business. After some pushing, the entrepreneur remembers that it was a referral he received after giving a speech at an industry event. Corcoran then asks how often he gives speeches like this, and the entrepreneur says it was a one-time thing. Before this easy line of questioning, the entrepreneur hadn’t realized how much speaking at these kinds of events could benefit his business.”

Whenever we think productivity we always go to time management. How well are we making use of the time we have. Are we prioritizing? Putting first things first?

Or we look for some new strategy or look to technology for the killer app that will make all the difference.

We somehow never seem to look at the obvious – what’s already working.

I find this true when people come to me for help – both business owners and individuals alike. We love new and different but tried and true has its place.

If you want to lose weight, you may have had success before albeit short-lived, but the data is still important. Something worked. What was it?

If you are in sales, there may have been a time when you seemed to have been on a winning streak. What were you doing? Perhaps like Corcoran suggested, you did not link your doing a particular thing to getting more business. At that time you may have been sending out handwritten thank you notes to customers and didn’t realize that this was resulting in customers talking about you and promoting the way you work to other potential customers who then called you.

I’ve written about this before, but it’s important to talk about it again.

We need to slow down and become more consciously aware of what we are doing. We need to take notes. We need to rely on our own data based on actual performance and then make decisions based on that.

Far too often we are grasping at straws, desperately looking for a tactic that will save us yet we already have all the answers we need.

Whenever Corcoran starts to work with an entrepreneur this is what she does: “So I start making a list of what’s worked before and have them focus on that before I allow them to do something else.” She also recommends pursuing these tried paths to success BEFORE spending new capital on riskier investments, such as hiring a public-relations manager.

Take note of what she says here: “I don’t let them spend any time on anything that doesn’t directly result in a sale, because that’s what you need when you’re a small business.”

I tell my clients that we want to spend our time on those things that would bring us results. That’s all that matters. Too often I have independent professionals come to me after they have spent a ton load of money on office space, signs, advertising, nice furniture, business cards, web sites, yet they have no customers. If you have a limited amount of money to invest and a limited amount of time, don’t you think it makes better sense to focus on those things that will bring you the maximum payoff in the shortest amount of time?

If you want to grow and start getting more consistent results it’s not going to happen until you start learning from what you are actually doing. So just for today, take some time and figure out what has been working for you FIRST, before doing anything.

People who have succeeded in making lasting change in their lives do two things:

  1. They progress through trial and error, keeping what worked and throwing out what didn’t work
  2. They create a plan that’s customized

If you focus on your process, the results will take care of itself. I dare you to prove me wrong!


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