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The Ten Commandments of Running a Business

Updated on January 23, 2017

Tough Lessons

I've been on the roller-coaster of running my own business for a long time now, and I've always had the entrepreneurial bug. However, it's only in the last ten years or so that I've been able to start quantifying what makes a business more or less successful. After a great deal of self-education (I've read about 50 business books, met with countless mastermind groups, and made plenty of mistakes over the years!), I've distilled what I've learned into ten key concepts or "commandments" that will hopefully make your life a little bit easier.

Commandment Overview

Without using the overly kitschy "thou shalt" or "thou shalt not", let's get right to the ten most important guiding business concepts:

  1. Run your business; don't let it run you.
  2. Automate and delegate properly. This means a lot of initial training and set up, but it pays off.
  3. Plan long term (five year plan, one year slice, one month slice, weekly, daily).
  4. Create SMART goals.
  5. Start every day working on daily goals.
  6. Get into a routine.
  7. Get rid of distractions.
  8. Do tasks in batches.
  9. Pay your business first.
  10. Learn.


Commandment 1: Run Your Business; Don't Let It Run You

This really could be the only commandment, as everything else tends to fall in line if you are able to follow this one to a tee. Most folks aren't able to completely actualize this (myself included), so it's useful to take a look at what's realistic. The main concept is that you don't want to spend so much time on the technical work, even though that might be the main thing that drew you into running a business in the first place. Instead, your goal should be to spend the lion's share of your time improving the way things work. The difference in between spending 8 hours doing menial tasks and, say, spending 4 hours on menial tasks and 4 hours on improving the business itself, will be like night and day. While there are likely dozens of folks who can do the technical work at your business, there is only one person who can drive the business in the right direction, ultimately making sure that everything is happening according to a plan that leads you to having a much better business five years down the road. That person is you.

Imagine that you are on a huge late 19th century transatlantic ship. There are three main jobs that get this ship across the Atlantic ocean from London to New York. The first is the coal shoveler. Without this technical work, the ship simply won't go anywhere. The second job is the manager, who makes sure the coal is actually being shoveled properly and consistently. Without this person, the coal shovelers won't necessarily do their jobs correctly (or at all). The third job is the captain. The captain makes sure the ship actually goes to New York (and, equally importantly, makes sure that the ship avoids obstacles like icebergs). You are the captain of your business. Without you, there is no way to be sure that the business will be heading in the right direction. This entire article is really about this: how to make sure you're heading in the right direction, and how to get there.

Commandment 2: Automate and Delegate Properly

You can't do everything yourself if you have a grand vision (more on that below), but with the proper help, and by leveraging technology, many more things can be taken out of your hands. The rule here is to automate and delegate properly, with emphasis on properly. It isn't enough to simply automate everything and let the system run on its own, or to pawn off odd jobs on whoever is available. Instead, you need to lay the groundwork in the beginning, and stick to your guns, making sure everyone understands why things need to happen. Use auto responders to answer initial emails, but follow up with real human interaction as soon as you have a conversation going, for instance. Set subscriptions on Amazon Prime for goods you use on a predictable basis. Just don't forget to check any automations from time to time!

Commandment 3: Plan Long Term

Revolution BJJ, a martial arts gym I run in Richmond, Virginia
Revolution BJJ, a martial arts gym I run in Richmond, Virginia

You're in this for the long haul, or else you're in business for all the wrong reasons. Instead of what's going to happen tomorrow, or next week, you need to start thinking about where you'd like to be in 5, 10, or even 20 years. While this isn't so easy to start doing, once you form a habit, it's almost addictive. Start with where you'd like to be in the truly long term (20 years is a pretty good ceiling). Some of the concepts can be abstract, but try to see yourself where you want to be in two decades. Next, try to figure out where you need to be in ten years. Write all of this down as you go. Slice the ten year goal into where you need to be in five years, and then take the five year plan and slice it into individual years. You now know what your annual goals are going to be for the next five years, give or take.

I personally prefer a spreadsheet for long-term goal tracking (more on setting goals properly below).

Commandment 4: Create SMART goals

SMART:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

Love it. Live it. Focus mainly on the "attainable" aspect. Read more over at How to Set SMART Goals and Achieve Them.

Commandment 5: Start Every Day Working on Goals

For the first half hour of every day, start by making a list of your daily goals (if it works better for you to do this the night before, go for it). Don't start any tasks for the rest of the day until you have these daily goals done. The daily goals should be derived from your weekly goals, which you should make every Sunday or Monday morning, and, in turn, the weekly goals should be derived from your monthly goals, which are derived from your yearly goals, and so on. You've already taken the goal-setting process seriously and given it enough time; now it's time to focus on execution. Don't answer email or check Facebook before you accomplish today's goals, and make sure there are no exceptions to this.

Commandment 6: Get Into a Routine

To that end, it's really important that you get into a routine. I run a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gym, and so my routine looks something like this:

10 AM: set daily goals
10:10 AM: accomplish goals for the day
11:00 AM: answer emails (in batches, of course)
11:30 AM: social media (promoting events, interacting, and personal time)
12:00 PM - 2:00 PM: personal time (walk dogs, play games, goof off, etc... but generally away from a computer)
2:00-4:00 PM: BJJ training time (if I'm not training that day, I will do something active, like prep meals or run an errand)
4:00-5:30 PM: Arrive at the gym; interact with office admin and front desk receptionist. Answer emails that have accumulated since 12 PM or so (and address any social media updates) during this time.
5:30-9:00 PM: teach and train
9-10 PM: clean up and go home

This type of routine is really important, whether or not you use a similar pattern structure (I prefer intense, quiet work spaced out between periods of inactivity or relaxing). If you're in the habit of doing these things, you're going to do them every day. If you're not, well... you're not going to do these things every day.

Commandment 7: Get Rid of Distractions

Although this concept follows naturally from the above sequence (the idea is to get everything done in a given day, including - no, especially - your daily goals), it still takes a lot of conditioning to master. Tim Ferris has said that there really isn't such a thing as multitasking for human beings, and I tend to agree with him, with very few exceptions. Instead, the way to become "super productive" is simply to get rid of everything that distracts you from your intent. I find that I work best in one to two hour bursts with little to no distractions, although I can get quite a lot done in 15 minutes of solitude in front of a computer. Obviously, I'm not opening a bunch of recreational tabs when I do this, and I'm not working with the TV on in the background. I do find music to be helpful, and even useful in measuring time if I listen to a full album and know all the songs on it, but you'll need to determine if you work better in absolute quiet or with music. No matter what, though, get your phone out of the picture (out of sight), and get rid of any other opportunities to stop you from getting your one hour of diligence in.

Commandment 8: Do Tasks in Batches

Batching tasks was something I got right away from my work in the restaurant business. Most larger restaurants operate with the paramount goal of maximizing efficiency, and this often means doing the same thing 20 or 30 (or 100) times before jumping to a different task. For example, if you have a dish that includes five different vegetables, all of which need to be peeled and sliced, it probably makes a lot more sense to peel and slice all 20 onions that you're going to need for the day ahead, and then move on to peeling all 50 or so carrots, and so on; as opposed to peeling half a carrot and a quarter of an onion that you need for the dish right in front of you. Similarly, use the batch concept for answering emails: don't answer two or three emails, then head over to Facebook for a few minutes, and then come back to answer one or two more. Instead, use your newly found discipline (removing distractions) and answer all emails at once. Then, close your email tab so you aren't tempted to peek back over there to answer them! This is very difficult for someone who is used to being connected all the time, but the end result is an amazing boost of productivity. If you need to check email more than once a day, just reopen your tab when you need to... much, much later on.

Commandment 9: Pay Your Business First

I know what you're thinking. I've been there. It's really, really tough to run a business without bringing any income home from the business. I'm not necessarily advocating zero salary if that isn't something you can afford, but I am definitely suggesting that you calculate whatever it is that your business would need to survive for six months with absolutely no income, and then to make sure your bank account balance reflects that. Be sure that you have a separate checking and savings account for your business, and be absolutely sure that you take the completely separate nature of these accounts seriously. Now build your capital up until you can reliably bring home a paycheck. I've certainly made the mistake of paying myself too much too soon, and it is not a lesson that I want you to have to learn the hard way. Instead, build your business up to where it needs to be before taking home any income from it. Bonus: if you're more diligent about this, or if you have more starting capital than I had (zero), shoot for a year's worth of expenses in checking and a year's worth of expenses in savings.

Commandment 10: Learn

Never stop being a student of the game. I have personally read about 50 business books, some of which are genuine game changers. If you haven't read , start there. If you have a hard time sitting down to read a book on how to run a business, try audio books. What a game changer this has been for me over the years! Any time I'm driving, I'm learning, and I drive quite a lot. Any time I'm walking my dog, or washing the dishes, or even cutting the grass, I'm learning how to run my business better. I know this one might be hard for you to get into if you're not already a huge fan of reading nonfiction, but just one business book can give you a concept that utterly changes the way you market, administrate, or lead at your business, giving you a tremendous edge, and potentially doubling your profit in as little as a year. Seriously, read.

Patience

I'm sure that these ten tips can seem daunting to implement, but if you try to use one of them at a time, I'm confident that you'll see results over time. All of these lessons are conclusions I've drawn over the last decade and a half, and several of them cost me quite a bit of money and time. They don't have to cost you nearly as much, though, because you can start doing things the right way, right now. Let me know if you've been helped by any of these concepts, and if you have your own "tough love" lessons, please share them with me!

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