Many entrepreneurs wear their long work hours like badges of honor. But here’s the truth: working more hours does not make you more efficient. I have met many folks who are mired in busywork, devoting time to tasks that fill hours and let them cross out items on the to-do list (woo-hoo! I did 94 things today) but that don’t move the needle on the business.
Yes, there is hard work that takes time, effort and attention to detail. And no, there is no shortcut to getting it done. But is it the right work to do now?
When you start your business, you have to thoughtfully cultivate your two most valuable resources: your time and your relationships. Time is not refundable. Consider very carefully how you choose to spend your day, and with whom. Decide what is most important for you to do now and who can be most helpful to you in doing it.
Every day we have choices about what work we do, what we ask for help with and what we put aside for another time. For example, you may need to decide which is most important to work on today: creating a financial model for revenue three years out, writing a ten-page market analysis, or spending time with three customers to understand them more deeply.
Too often, the third option remains a low priority because the first two seem so directly related to revenue. And isn’t your goal to grow revenue by understanding your market? Yes, but the best way to get there may not be exactly the way we’re conditioned to think.
If you want to build a business, you need to understand people.
Aileen Gemma Smith
When I started my business, I went door to door and asked a lot of questions. I wanted to hear customers’ stories and understand their perspectives. I didn’t walk in saying, “please buy this” or “tell me if you would use this product.” Instead I asked, “What’s it been like to run this business for twenty years?” I asked, “Tell me about what’s hard, tell me about what frustrates you.” Those stories — where I spent time listening and observing— became the basis of our research for creating a product that customers wanted, needed and would use.
And the time I took to walk in and say hello, to listen and research one-on-one, resonated with our customers. We took the time to care; we made the effort to listen. We paid attention to detail.
I believe if you do that foundational work first, generating revenue becomes much easier. The more you understand your customer and the problem you are solving, the more fluent you become in creating models to acquire customers and to understand what they will pay.
Spending time with your customers matters, and not only at the moment when your customer is using your product or service. It’s essential to understand who your customers are and what are the contexts and constraints of their daily lives. What opportunity can you create that both honors who they are and helps to solve a problem?
“You were kind. You listened to me.” Those words from a customer are etched in my mind. If you want to build a business, you need to understand people. When you begin by listening, when you lead by wanting to learn, then the narrative for closing sales changes. Relationships created on trust, with empathy and respect as their foundation, are what allow you to build dependable sales that scale.
Empathy is an invaluable skill in building revenue. So, when you’re considering where to put your time and energy each day, remember that those first customers may become your most steadfast advocates and champions, giving you the referrals and support you need for long-term success.
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