If I were starting a business today there are just seven questions I would want answers to. Funny thing is, even after twenty-five years in business, I still need the answers to these questions.Now, it’s not that I can’t find these all-important answers, it’s that they change constantly and to some degree that’s how I know I’m growing and evolving.
Visiting these seven, what I call, Guiding Questions, is what keeps me sane or at least moving down a path that’s heading towards something worth doing.
These questions inform strategy, purpose, priorities, culture, marketing, projects, process and simple day-to-day tasks.
Hang these questions on a big poster somewhere prominent so that everyone in your organization is constantly pondering answers. Pull your entire team together every 90 days or so and go on a search for the current state of these answers. Hole up in a cabin in the woods once a year long enough to get all the voices in your head to quiet down enough to ponder truly meaningful answers to following seven questions.
1. Where are we?
This is the baseline question that must always be first and foremost on the mind or any business owner. The only way to solve an equation about reaching your goals and objective is to factor in somewhat accurately where you are right now. This can involve any set of metrics as long as you have a picture of where that puts you on the map as you see it in the future.
2. Where are we going?
This is the vision question that every business must keep visiting. Vision is a lot like the horizon on that two-lane highway that snakes through the plains – you think you can see the destination off in the distance – but with each passing milepost the destination moves farther away. It’s the essence of growth – you’re never done, you just keep expanding your horizons.
3. Why are we going there?
Every truly successful business that I’ve ever worked with seemed to fully understand why they did what they did, who, in very specific terms that wanted to serve with that purpose and how, in opposition to everyone else who said they were in that same business, they were uniquely suited to provide that service in a remarkable manner. So, how is your why connected to your vision?
4. What values will guide us?
Values and beliefs are like filters for making decisions and if you don’t understand them, connect to them deeply and use them as a tool to recruit others who believe, you will make decisions that take you off you path. It’s a lot like having steering that’s out of balance. You know where you want to go but it’s a fight to go in the obvious direction. Make a list of the values you hold deeply and use these to guide you.
5. How are we going to get there?
Now it’s time to define the strategy that will move you in the direction of your vision. How will you innovate? What will you create? What about your business will attract customers and partners? How will you use the resources you have to efficiently build a highly profitable business? What will differentiate your business in the minds of your ideal customer?
6. Who needs to do what?
How can you focus on doing the highest payoff work? How can you delegate everything else? What resources do you need to hire, acquire or source? How can you elevate the staff you currently have in ways that empowers them to own your vision?
7. What will we measure?
Finally, how will you know you are making progress? For that matter how will you know you’re stuck, moving backwards or far off course unless you determine a set of metrics that map back to your ultimate vision. These metrics will likely include things like revenue growth, profit, leads and customers, but don’t forget to consider metrics that keep focus on other signs of health – things like referrals, testimonials and staff praise.
Only a couple of these questions, things like values and perhaps even your vision for the next few years, will remain somewhat static. Visiting the rest every ninety days or so should take you on the dynamic ride of a lifetime and that’s what makes doing this business owning thing such a thrill.