Tag Archives: organization

The Wasted Week

“Organizing is what you do before you do something so that when you do it, it’s not all mixed up.” — A.A. Milne

So those of you who are regular subscribers may have noticed a significant shortage of posts on this blog last week. Like, there was only one post. Or 80% less than I should have done.

Here’s what happened: I didn’t do my weekly planning. Normally I sit down at the beginning of the week and look over my monthly goals, and figure out what I need to do for the week. Last week I didn’t do that.

That lack had several results:
1) I felt way stressed out. I knew there was stuff I needed to be doing, but I didn’t have it centralized into one location. I couldn’t tell whether I was keeping ahead of my tasks or not, because I didn’t have anything to compare to my accomplishments. So even when I did get something done, I didn’t know if that put me ahead or just less far behind.

2) I didn’t get much done Every time I sat down to do some work, I didn’t know what to do. Usually I have a piece of paper with everything I want to do for the week; when I start to work, I look down the list and pick something on it. By the end of the week, most everything’s crossed off. But since I didn’t have that list, I spent most of the week trying to figure out what I should do, instead of doing it. And my failure to get stuff done contributed significantly to the stress problem.

Lessons:

1) Planning really does help
I’ve been planning my months and weeks since August of last year, and a week with that level of productivity has become the new norm. But despite the fact that I don’t notice increased productivity anymore, it is still there. Productivity was significantly lower in the week I didn’t plan.

2) Get back up and try again
Although I missed out on most of a week, I have a new week starting today. And because I built leeway into my month’s plan, I won’t end up too far behind by the time we get to June.

Just like dieting, you’ll screw up sometimes. That doesn’t mean you should throw your diet out entirely; it means you should make sure you eat healthy the next day. Likewise, you won’t be productive every day or every week. Just make sure you get back into the groove the week after.

SWOT Analysis: Where do we stand overall?

This post is part of a series that goes into greater detail on the annual planning process.

Now that you’ve analyzed your internal and external environments, it’s time to put them together to get a complete idea of what’s going on around you and what you can do about it.

SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats, and is a synthesis of the internal and external analyses. If you’ve done an external analysis and an internal analysis, you’ve already got a list of your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (If not, I highly recommend going back to read them; it makes your SWOT a lot more effective). So all you have to do now is put them in a grid:

Good Stuff Scary Stuff
Internal Strengths Weaknesses
External Opportunities Threats

The advantage of lining them up like this is that it makes it easier to find the synergies (sorry to lapse into manager-speak, but it actually applies in this case), both bad and good.

Take the Good Stuff column. What you’re looking for here is a place where your strengths match up well with your opportunities, like a new job that pays better and is looking for your particular talents, or a need for marketing consulting in your area that matches well with your marketing expertise, or a bunch of start-ups in the area that could really use the venture capital you have in your savings account. Any pair that works well like that is one of your Super-duper-mega-opportunities (S-D-M-opportunities): a place where not only do you have a chance to make money, but you can probably do better than your competitors because of the strengths you have available.

Not quite so exciting, but just as important, is the Scary Stuff. Again you’re looking for places that match up: weaknesses that exacerbate your threats, or threats that will hit you harder than others because of your weaknesses. These are your super-duper-mega-threats (S-D-M-threats): the ones that have the potential to take you down even if you do everything right with your opportunities. The ones that you will need to find some way to address, by shoring up your weaknesses, hiring someone who doesn’t have that weakness, making a deal with someone to eliminate the threat, or whatever. It’s not as much fun as thinking about your S-D-M-opportunities, but it’d be a bummer to finish an amazing project and be poised to rake in the dough, only to be blindsided by a threat you never saw coming and can’t handle.

Summary

Write down your Super-Duper-Mega-threats, and what options you have available to deal with them. You don’t need to decide how to handle them, but you’ll want to brainstorm available options.

Write down your Super-Duper-Mega-opportunities. You don’t have to decide which one(s) to pursue, but you’ll want them on hand for the step after next.

What about Me? Evaluating Internal Factors

This post is the second in a series on annual planning (third if you count the original annual planning post, about which this series goes into greater detail).

Yesterday we talked about scanning your external environment, to determine what’s going on around you. Today we’re scanning the internal environment. That sounds less weird and anatomical when you’re talking about a company rather than a person, but the concept is the same.

The following are questions you should ask yourself about your situation, your capabilities, and your weaknesses during the annual planning process.

Internal Analysis, (the rest of this post in PDF format so you can print it off and fill it out.)

A. Your Structure
How is your monetization structured at present? Is it centralized — from one source — or spread out among many streams of income?

Is the decision-making authority centralized (you make all decisions yourself) or decentralized (you consult your partner, your parents, your boss, or others before making money decisions)?

Monetization Type Percent of Income
Employment
Freelance/Self-employed
Information Products (website, book, blog, )
Business (passive income)
Investment (stock dividends, real estate rental, venture capital)
Other

B. Your Culture
Do you have a well-defined or emerging set of beliefs, expectations, and values? Are these values consistent with your current objectives, strategies, policies, and programs?
What do your values say about the important issues facing you (eg on changing societal expectations or economic difficulty?)
Are there conflicts between the values of society and your values? If so, how are you resolving them?
C. Resources
a. Marketing
What do you do to get your name out there? Are you well-known in your field (brand awareness)? Among those who do know you, for what are you known (brand identity)?
Overall, is marketing a strength or a weakness to your making money?

b. Finance
What is your financial situation? Healthy and happy? Just getting by? In debt and falling fast?
How much money could you invest in a monetization start-up right now? $10 will buy a domain name for a year; $100 is what my boyfriend used to start his small business; $300 will buy you a laptop for creating your products; $1000 will let you launch an ebay store and stock your virtual shelves.
How much money could you invest in a monetization scheme on an ongoing basis? $25/month will buy you a shopify store; $1000/month will let you open a physical location.
Overall, is finance a strength or a weakness towards your making money?

c. Research & Development (Lifetime Education)
How well do you keep up with current trends? Are you on the lookout for more ways to help people? What “products” (ways to provide value) do you have lined up for consideration to offer?
Do you have a good grasp of the tools available to you for monetizing your value? Are you familiar enough with website-building, book-publishing, running a business, owing a job, and investing cash that you can decide which option is best for each value you provide?
What are you doing or considering doing to improve your ability to create and provide value?
Overall, is R&D a strength or a weakness for your making money?

d. Operations & Logistics
Do you have the tools and resources you need to do your job? Whatever you’re doing to make money, are you doing it as efficiently as possible? Or could you work better if you changed your procedures, your schedule, or bought new tools?
What tools, procedures, or training might you need to implement your plans for the upcoming year?
Overall, is Operations a strength or a weakness for your making money?

e. Information Systems
Do you have the information you need to do your job? When you go to find information for your work, do you know where to find it? Does your filing system allow you to keep relevant information, and to find it again quickly?
Are you adding things to your information system on a regular basis?
Overall, is Information Systems a strength or a weakness for your making money?

Summary

Now decide which of the above factors is the most important to you. The print-off gives you room for 5 of each (strengths & weaknesses), but try to limit yourself to 2-3 of each. Just like for the external analysis, go through the list and determine what ought to be done about each item: how can you best make use of your strengths, and repair or mitigate your weaknesses?

What’s Going On? Evaluating External Factors

Step one of the Annual Planning process is to establish what’s going on around you. I know that sounds stupid, but think how many people haven’t done that. As we speak,

  • movie theaters are ignoring the fact that people aren’t willing to spend $20 to see a movie on the big screen when they can wait 2 months, spend $20, and see the same movie at home.
  • newspapers are ignoring the fact that their readers are finding the same content online for free, and advertisers are following the readers
  • music publishers are ignoring the fact that no-name artists are making it big by using social media and file sharing, and are refusing to let anyone tell a friend about their products

I know some people, and I’m sure you do too, who are similarly blind to changes in their own lives. People who are unwilling to blog, and can’t figure out why everybody has more publicity than they do. People whose jobs will be automated within a decade, who won’t go back to school to learn something new. People who have exactly the skills that are needed for high-paying, exciting jobs, but won’t put together a resume to apply for them.

Look around you. It helps, it really does.

The Process

External Analysis – .doc
External Analysis – .pdf

I’ve attached sheets for downloading on which you can write down your thoughts and notes as you go. I’m not particularly attached to you using my sheet, but it may be easier to understand the process if you follow along at home on your own copy. I’ve included a PDF and a DOC, so you can print it off or edit it on your computer.

PEST Analysis

PEST stands for Political, Economic, Social, Technological — the four areas that (mostly) encompass everything you should be thinking about. (If you think of a factor that is important, but doesn’t fit in one of these 4 categories, just write it off to the side or in whichever category is the closest fit).

A lot of this stuff will just come out of your head. Everybody knows that our society is frighteningly litigious, that Americans are obese, and that Twitter is the Next Big Thing ™

But go ahead and use Google here. Type “Lawsuits: small business” or “economic changes: hospitality industry” into the search bar and see what comes up. Even if it turns out that there aren’t any lawsuits pending that may affect your business, aren’t you relieved to know that for sure?

Political/Legal: what’s going on in the government that might affect you? Are there new laws being passed that my affect your ability to work? Legislation regulating your industry is an example; legislation that will change your employer’s incentives is another. There was a law proposed in Colorado last year that would have made it extremely disadvantageous for a company to have more than 20 employees; working in a company with 35 employees, the passage of that law would likely have put about half of our jobs at risk (fortunately it was voted down). Are there any benchmark cases before the state or federal supreme court that might affect your business, making decisions about whether bloggers are press, whether repairmen can be sued for shoddy work, whether bakeries may use trans fats?

Economic: What’s going on in the economy? And how closely tied is your business to the economic state? Is it positively or negatively tied? (Walmart’s revenue went up when the US economy took a nosedive) What time frame of the economy do you need to be looking at? What is the economy likely to be doing in the next 2-3 years, and does that have any effect on what you should be doing?

Social/Cultural: What changes are going on in our society, and which ones affect you? Does it matter to your money-making capability that the baby boomers are retiring? That the Net Generation is starting to leave college and grad school? That obesity is through the roof? That more than half the households in the US include a woman who works outside the house? That Americans are marrying later and divorcing more?

Technological: Technology is booming at an accelerating rate — how does it matter to you? Can you reach audiences that you couldn’t before? Can you target a niche that you couldn’t previously have found? Is it harder to get the attention of your customers? Is it easier to get professional-looking sales materials?

Jot down everything you can think of, and select the 2-3 in each area that are the most important to put in your table.

Industry Analysis

Depending on your situation, industry analysis may not matter to you. But if you have a field or industry in mind, it’s a good idea to run it through this quick check.

The analysis is based on Porter’s Five Forces (yes, I know there are 6; it’s not my fault he missed one), which was published in 1979, and remains the definitive method for assessing the attractiveness of an industry.

Each force can be high, medium, or low. In general, the more lows you have, the more attractive the industry. If there are a lot of highs, you should make sure you have a very clear and good reason to enter (or stay in) that field; it’s very competitive and cut-throat.

For example, the blogging industry looks like this:

    Threat of new entrants: high (anyone can start a blog inside an hour)
    Bargaining power of buyers: high (I have no control over what you do; you can leave at any time)
    Threat of substitutes: high (you can get other blogs, read a book, tinker with monetization on your own time, go to school….)
    Bargaining power of suppliers: low (WordPress has very little leverage on me)
    Rivalry among competing firms: low (most bloggers are more interested in helping me than in wiping me out)
    Relative power of unions, government, special interest groups, etc: medium

Overall then, blogging is a semi-attractive industry. I have to be prepared at all times to defend my niche against new entrants, and I have no leverage to make you read or buy anything I put out. On the other hand, I can’t be threatened by many things, and I don’t have to be on the lookout for big-box competitors. And in the case of blogging, the power of special interest groups can actually be a good thing. When Porter designed the analysis, he was thinking about people working against you. But in my case, I can use the power of special interest groups for me, simply by aligning my blog with their (my) special interests. And I’m willing to put up with the highs in the top 3 forces, because not having any power over my buyers keeps me from abusing my power. I therefore find blogging an acceptable industry (phew!) though you might decide differently.

Summary

Look over everything you’ve written, and decide which factors are going to be the most important to you in the upcoming year. I’ve given you room for 7, but try to stick to 3-5 if possible.

Then go through the list, and think about the implications of each one. If the high litigation rate of our society is important, should you buy insurance? Have your customers sign a disclaimer? Keep a lawyer on retainer? Go back to school and study law yourself?

Then (and this is entirely my opinion; my profs would have a heart attack if they saw this) go through the list again, and try to find an opportunity in each item. I firmly believe that most threats can be turned into opportunities if you treat them right; you just have to be prepared to change as necessary. In many many industries, you can turn a threat into an opportunity simply by being the first to respond to it: movie theaters are installing coffee shops and sushi bars to make the theater more pleasant and exciting than your home; Pepsi responded to anti-high-fructose-corn-syrup sentiments by releasing Pepsi Throwback; a friend of mine is coding an improved keyboard for the ipad, since Apple hasn’t seen fit to provide one.

Many of those opportunities you won’t have the time, resources, or desire to actually make use of. But it’s good to know all your options before you make a decision.

Resources for Further Reading
Quick MBA: PEST analysis
Environmental Scanning

You Plan Too Much! Why Plan?

“Raina,” you’re saying, “this blog is supposed to be about making money! Why do you spend so much time talking about planning?”

Well, a couple of reasons, one of which is that I’m good at planning, and feel comfortable pretending to be an expert on it.

But more importantly, it’s that a lot of people’s ideas go awry not because they lack the knowledge or skills or talent to achieve their dreams, but because they don’t know how to get from here to there. In other words, they fail because they don’t know how to make a plan.

I believe that you can monetize yourself right now. You have the desire to engage in your hobbies and interests, and could be convinced to go out there and dabble in podcasts or writing or freelance consulting. So while I will get to how to do all of that stuff, I think it’s more important right now to ensure that your experimentation is focused and helpful to your efforts.

I bring this up today because I’m about to begin a series on planning. My Annual Planning post included an overview of steps for planning, but I want to go back and revisit each step individually, and talk about the details of how to evaluate your environment, and so on.