This year I became practice manager for my mom’s private practice in Detroit. We realized in 2012 that while my mom is a fantastic doctor, the practice itself had huge staff turnover and major operations issues. So since 2012, I’d flown in from NYC each month; now I manage from the ground in Detroit.
The last four years have been a trippy experience. I’ve had to learn:
- The level of patience and stamina required to work with family. My mom is old-school, “I don’t want to be showy,” while I hail from integrity marketing a la Seth Godin, “But if we speak like humans, ma, people appreciate it.” Makes for messy business conversations.
- The CORE components of a successful business. Whether you’re an online coach, run a medical practice, or own a hair salon, there are a few essential practices you can’t afford to skip (do so at your own peril) and that create success across any industry.
- How to manage humans. With six people reporting to me, I had NO clue how to balance being assertive, human, direct, and get things done. Again, messy conversations.
- How to effectively communicate and lead as myself. I had to learn how to work around traditional business practices, being younger, and not being trained in the same system people had been for 20 years.
I told my hair stylist, Likka, last week. “You gotta make payroll, get phones answered, know what to do when 6 people come to you for 6 different things, hire the right people, put them in the right roles so they excel, AND put ink in the printer?! Four years ago the chaos would’ve taken me under. But now, I’m asking, “What can we do first that makes everything else easy?”
She put down the hair dryer and looked directly at me. She KNEW. “It’s insane. We’re in the middle of hiring two people but then we have to train, which takes forever! And we have people doing X who are better at Y because it’s their strength. Then we have to revamp the schedule but need to write it down so they can read it first but I’m so busy I don’t even have time to write!”
It all tumbled out – hundreds of concerns and how she was trying to keep her head above water. We talked for a long time and I told her everything I did – how we started backwards and had to fix mistakes, how I skipped steps (like training) and how it backfired later. She nodded in total understanding.
While we spoke, I scribbled notes because I knew I wanted to share this with you. It’s valuable to know how we dug ourselves out of the hole and that despite a variety of industries and circumstances, certain business practices are standard for success. What a relief.
Here’s what I shared with her, I’ll go into specifics in another post.
Big point #1: We are not trained as business owners.
Most of us aren’t, anyway. Unless you went to business school or got trained by a mentor like I did, no one teaches you how to have hard conversations, how to hire people for potential, not skill. No one teaches how to create operations so your business grows over time or tells you your practices are outdated. Even with a mentor I had to learn on my own by making mistakes and course correcting.
Big point #2: We do things backwards or out of order.
Because we’re not trained, we shoot from the hip at whatever feels like the right problem to solve. I can’t count how many times my mom’s said, “We need to answer phones!” My reply, “Yep, but we need to hire a human first to answer those phones, right?” Ain’t no ghosts up in here that can answer phones!
We also never learned the rule “Do what’s important, not urgent.” We solve problems all day long that feel important, but are actually urgent. In 2012, we had people in COMPLETELY wrong roles. The bubbly woman who liked people sat at the back desk on a computer all day. The salty introvert who didn’t like people sat up front, arguing with patients all day. Instead of shifting roles, my mom said, “We need to answer phones!” She didn’t want to worry about roles because at the very least, bodies were in chairs. But after 20 patient complaints, she realized that we needed to make role shifts priority #1.
Without training, we feel like we’re solving emergencies all day long.
If you’re in business or want to be, knowing this NOW can be the difference between wasting lots of time or moving from one stage of business to the next with ease.
It also doesn’t matter if you don’t have a brick and mortar business – I have the exact same concerns in my online business – operations, systems, marketing – we just have lots more emails instead of phone calls coming in.
So first things first. Wherever you are right now in your business, identify what stage you’re in. This is what I used to re-edify my mom’s office after 20 years of doing it wrong. Please trust the nightmare it’s been wading through the what it used to be and the effort it’s taken to get to where we are today. As you read, you’ll likely have 1-2 blind-spots where you might not be able to tell where you’re at, or you may think you should be at X stage when you really should be at Y. It’s okay. I had them too.
It’s good to find out now. It will help you bust through magical thinking that you can still be successful by doing everything wrong. (I operated like this for years) :)
Stages of business life cycle:
1. Admit you have a problem in a very REAL way.
Until my mom acknowledged that her office was not functioning properly (patients weren’t happy, staff had low morale, phones weren’t answered) my hands were tied. “It’s fine” won’t cut it if you want real change.
2. Get your own shit together first.
Sit down and actually think about your vision for your business. Why did you start? What sucks now? What’s missing? What do you want more of? What help do you need? Before you hire new people or burn the place down, take a moment to THINK about what you want.
3. Hire the right people.
Don’t mistakenly hire the same wrong person again and again. Learn to hire differently than you’re used to – for personality, attitude, and willingness – knowing that you can train later in specialized skills.
4. Put people in the right roles.
The right roles = someone is naturally inclined to because it suits their personality and strength. Create a vision for them and know why you put them in a specific role and where you want them to ultimately go.
5. Train your people.
Most important step ever. So often we have unrealistic expectations of people, then they fail, then we give up. But we don’t realize we never trained them! We hate training so much we skip it, not realizing it comes back to bite u. Training is hard and frustrating but CRITICAL.
6. Create the right systems.
Build systems that allow ease in your most important tasks – sales, time management, marketing, and cement them in with superman cement.
7. Create Standard Operating Procedures and Policies (SOP’s)
Create them and learn the difference between policies & procedures.
8. Sustain your ship once you’ve righted it.
Maintain systems that create flow, i.e. staff meetings, email communication system, how are problems handled when X arises.
9. Keep employees engaged and staff morale high.
Determine what incentives, encouragement, and benefits everyone on the team needs to be happy and fulfilled.
10. Update outdated methods of working.
If you need to get inter-office email, get one. If you need digital files instead of written ones, do it. If you need to do something else to save time, connect people, or make people happy, do it.
11. Create leadership roles and role definition.
Who’s in charge when things go wrong? Do you have clear written job descriptions for each person to fulfill on their daily tasks?
This is just the beginning, but it’s a good start.
Cycling through together,