Don’t Be Efficient if You Want a Successful Business

gears.jpgEfficiencyโ€ฆ Ah, now there’s a real power word of business. We want an efficient business with efficient processes. Our time management must be efficient. We manage clients efficiently. We even look for efficient tools to increase our efficiency. Efficiency rules.

But if you want your business to be successful, don’t be efficient.

I sat down with a business consultant recently. The business is great, we’re right where we want to be, and we’re a contender in the field. Everything is looking perfect. It’s success all the way, baby.

The business consultant didn’t look very impressed. He asked questions about competition, our unique selling proposition and our goals. He wanted to know more about our strengths and our weaknesses from our point of view. Then he asked us what a potential client would see as our strengths and weaknesses.

For nearly two hours, the consultant grilled me. It felt like an interrogation. They were good questions, ones that made me think before answering. He took notes, he tapped on his laptop, and then he sat back.

“What do you want?”

I gave him the reason I’d booked the appointment in the first place. “I’m managing more than I think I need to be. I want the business to be more efficient.”

“No, you don’t,” he responded confidently, and I blinked in confusion. I didn’t?

Why Efficiency Alone Gets You Nowhere

Businesspeople and entrepreneurs want to work less and make more. Don’t we all? Finding ways to cut back to have more time, streamlining that our business so that our business faster and better is an ultimate goal.

But it doesn’t matter how much you reduce labor-intensive tasks to improve the work flow so that your business functions at optimal efficiency. You can be the most efficient business in the world.

If you aren’t effective, then all you do is free up time. You don’t make more money.

A 5-step task reduced to 1 step is worth nothing if it doesn’t add value. There must be results that effectively improve your business. Organizing your workload and alleviating micromanaging is useless if it doesn’t help your business do more with less.

Efficiency allows your business to effectively grow or earn more revenues. That’s what you really want. So don’t be efficient. Be effective.

Now go one step further: Be effectively efficient.

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. This describes my current “day job” work environment perfectly.

    The company is extremely efficient at developing ineffective policies, procedures, and documentation.

    We’re really good at doing low-value activities.

    And it shows in the market… sadly.

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..farmer, or fisherman?

  2. Interesting observation. Looks like this business consultant is a great idea.

    I definitely need to work on these values myself. Unless I get into the flow early in the day I’m afraid my effective efficiency isn’t existing at all. It helps to get started on the right foot, kind of like getting up on the right side of the bed.

    Monika Mundell’s last blog post..Is Writing For A Byline Really Good Enough?

  3. You are so right James!

    This is a topic that I’m constantly focusing upon in my dayjob, but can’t seem to get a good understanding on with my co-workers.

    First focus on what you desire as results. Then look at your processes and see if they get you that result (effectiveness).
    If they do, focus on the amount of resources (time, money, energy) they need to get to those results. And improve upon that.
    If they don’t, well…then you’ve got some work to do.

    Most of my co-workers think the other way around “We do what we do for years now, and we’re making money, so we must be doing something right. Let’s improve our efficiency!”

    The trouble is that we don’t know what exactly we are doing right. And we’re not really clear on what results we want as well…

    And the last one is hard to overcome, but unfortunately very common. People and business don’t really know what results they want to achieve. And without that knowledge you’re flying blind, and will get lost.

    But judging from the reaction of the consultant, you must have a clear vision of the results you desire!

    Lodewijkvdb’s last blog post..Review week 07-2008; Goals, blog and GTD

  4. @ Brett – Most large companies have “efficiency” down to a T. They loooove efficiency. And they completely lose sight on “effective”, which is why many business consultants become extremely wealthy helping those big companies over and over – the companies never put the advice into practice.

    @ Monika – Being effective is one thing that most individuals and lone business owners lose sight of very quickly, especially online entrepreneurs. We’re barraged with ways to be more productive and effective. What good is all that if nothing happens?

    @ Lode – Another common trap. If it ain’t broken, don’t improve it, right? That’s where potential comes into play. Sure, you’re making X and doing well, but wouldn’t you rather be making Y and standing out as a real contender for huge success?

    As for clear vision – oh yes. We have extremely clear vision of where we want to be and how we need to get there. Now we just have to cut out the crap, streamline, and get some help to make it happen.

    Valuable lesson: Never be afraid to ask for help – even when you think you’re doing really well.

    Valuable lesson number two: Don’t try to do everything on your own – even when you think you *can*. The consultant said that one of the classic symptoms of a true entrepreneur is thinking we can do it all. And we can’t.

  5. I would have to agree with you, that efficiency is not really “that” important when starting a venture. Most ventures go into debt, experience all sorts of problems, etc. however this is the price the entrepreneur must pay to break the market-ice and get in so that the product or service can be sold. Otherwise, it’s time to close shop! Really, only after a firm is well-established should “efficiency” be a concern…was George Washington “efficient” when he decided to defy England, his very motherland, and tell them to get lost, so he could start a new country…mmm, I don’t think so. An entrepreneur must be willing to withstand the most difficult of obstacles…and then he or she can really experience success. Regards, Keith Johnson, Author “365 Great Affirmations”.

  6. @ James – exactly. Having worked here for 8 years, and seen how things are done, I have a little “side-plan” in the works. It is almost ready. Soon, I will offer productivity consulting to my own company, for a nice hourly rate.

    This is why I can spend a little time on here talking with you people each day – because I am effective.

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..farmer, or fisherman?

  7. I wish certain former employers of mine would have read this! Efficiency was the most important thing to them, but I saw how one of my employers lost hundreds of dollars each week, when my manager kept on messing up her orders. It’s funny to see how everything from minimum wage jobs to professional work is affected by this efficiency misconception.

    Thanks for the post! I’m glad that I can now see what the problem was back then, so that I won’t make the same mistakes myself ๐Ÿ™‚

    RLD: Taekwondo Happiness’s last blog post..Invincibility

  8. The most efficient business is one with no customers…

    Laura’s last blog post..WAHM Wednesday: Do You Call Yourself a Professional Writer?

  9. Ah … the beauty of distilling your “true requirement.”

    To make more money faster doesn’t mean doing the work faster as much as it means picking higher ROI work.

    Dave Navarro – Million Dollar Leverage’s last blog post..Freelance Smackdown: Expanding Services, Part Deux

  10. @ Keith – Very smart thought you have there. Start all businesses with effective and not efficient. I like that.

    @ Brett – When you become rich and famous, please remember where you used to kick back and drink beer.

    @ RLD – Learning from other people’s mistakes is a valuable lesson – and pain free!

    @ Laura – HA! Now that’s the truth, ain’t it?

    @ Dave – I disagree. You can have the highest ROI possible without being effective or efficient. It simply means that what you invest pays off at a high rate of return. It doesn’t mean that you were effective in your methods to achieve that or that you were efficient in your processes.

  11. (Rare day when I disagree with Dave!)

  12. Disagreement is good. “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another,” right?

    Maybe I should clarify …

    Efficient: Cutting the time to find a new customers from 3 days to 1 day, so you can get 100 customers in 100 days (instead of 300)
    Effective: Finding someone who has access to 100,000 customers and scoring 100 customers in a 1 day email promotion. Then you have 99 days freed up to add value by doing other business-building things ๐Ÿ™‚

    I guess the point I’m making with ROI is time based … the same results in 1 day rather than 100.

    Are we saying the same thing 2 different ways or am I missing the point? (I’m on some strong cough meds at the moment, so I’m a little fuzzy ๐Ÿ™‚ )

    Dave Navarro – Million Dollar Leverage’s last blog post..Freelance Smackdown: Expanding Services, Part Deux

  13. So I can’t wait for the next article on how to be more effective (hint). ๐Ÿ™‚

    A lot of people caught up in the 4HWW mania are trying to go efficient and work less but without first building an effective revenue stream. Ferriss himself had built a very effective revenue stream and worked like a dog before he finally started focusing on efficiency and learned how to extract himself from his business.

    I understood that immediately when reading the book, but until this article and didn’t have a clear way to expressing it: “Effective before efficient”.

  14. @ Sterling – Wait. Are you saying that I’ve just blown Ferriss’ theories out of the water and exposed him? ๐Ÿ˜‰

    @ Dave – Hm, yes. I think we are saying the same thing using different analogies, examples and basis to achieve one goal. I think it all comes down to: If you’re going to do something, it damned well better work!

  15. @ James – there’ll always be a few cold ones in my fridge for everyone here, regardless of how rich or how famous I become… ๐Ÿ™‚

    Don’t tell Tim Ferriss you’ve figured him out. That dude scares and inspires me at the same time, in a Tyler Durden sort of way…

    That’s a good point too – make it work first; then make it work better.

    In motor racing, they say, “to finish first, you must first finish”.

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..farmer, or fisherman?

  16. Some good insights there James and very true. Just because you’re efficient doesn’t mean you’re producing more or shortening a deadline. Effective managing is key.

    I’ve flipped a few houses and here’s a great example. The house I’m living in now I flipped.

    It was an abused house that had lots of potential. My time line initially was 4 weeks for renovation but I was able to shave that down by one week by efficiently scheduling contractors and workers.

    Great, now I have shaved off one week on paper (figuring how long their work would take). What I found was if I didn’t manage these guys and give them a good kick in the butt, they would take their time and work slowly.

    Had I not been on top of things and actually work a little harder because I had a lot more management to do, the house would have taken OVER 4 weeks to complete because some things couldn’t get done until after another was finished.

    Moral, you’re right. You have to add value to that extra time – and sometimes being more efficient also means you need to work a little harder as well.

    John Hoff’s last blog post..Create Yourself A Shortcut – How To E-Mail, Blog, and Text On The Go!

  17. You know what’s great about this post? It saved the rest of us from having to pay $100 to sit down with a business consultant.

    Chad | ProFreelancing’s last blog post..Spice Up Your Business Cards

  18. Try the tune of $300… and that was just the first meeting to gather information!

  19. @Brett – The Tyler Durden comparison cracked me up! Ferriss definitely inspires me too.

    @Chad – Amen. Can’t wait for our next free session. ๐Ÿ™‚

  20. I was going to say higher…but wanted to give you the chance to brag ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Okay…so it’s not really bragging, but it does show how much value you’re really delivering through this blog!

    Chad | ProFreelancing’s last blog post..Spice Up Your Business Cards

  21. @Brett – Tyler Durden, you hit the nail on it’s head! Scary and inspiring at the same time, that’s exactly what he is.

    @sterling – Ferriss does mention in his book that he had a big income stream already. But some people seem to want to read over that part, and start simplifying, eliminating and outsourcing their activities anyway. But outsourcing low value activities will cost even more money.

    The big question I guess is, what will you do with the time when it has freed up? Or in a more Navarro kind of way: what results do you want, that you’re not spending enough time on?

    Thinking of Navarro…I’m doing something different than I planned for this time. Shoot! I’m off for now…

  22. @Lode –
    Hey … looks like I was giving some coaching advice, even if I wasn’t here …

    Where’s my $100? ๐Ÿ™‚

    Dave Navarro – Freelance Smackdown!’s last blog post..Freelance Smackdown: Expanding Services, Part Deux

  23. @ sterling & Lodewijkvdb – I can’t help it, whenever I see him I just think of Fight Club.

    (One of my favourite movies, as James & Harry can attest to…)

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..farmer, or fisherman?

  24. @ Brett – Fight Club rocks.

    @ Chad – That’s high praise – thank you!

    @ Sterling – Ah, but you’ll have to keep reading to find out the next installment, now, wouldn’t you? ๐Ÿ˜‰ Glad to have you join the group, by the way!

    @ John – Ha, good example!

  25. See, this is why I love the comment section in this blog. My two favorite movies are:
    Fight Club
    Airplane! 1

    John Hoff’s last blog post..Create Yourself A Shortcut – How To E-Mail, Blog, and Text On The Go!

  26. @Dave – I think you should take cough medicine and comment in this site often! ๐Ÿ˜‰
    We’d appreciate it. LOL

    John Hoff’s last blog post..Create Yourself A Shortcut – How To E-Mail, Blog, and Text On The Go!

  27. @ John – Now I’m hurt. Gimme back that beer.


  28. dang!

    John Hoff’s last blog post..Create Yourself A Shortcut – How To E-Mail, Blog, and Text On The Go!

  29. @ James – right on, brother. Fight Club rocks *almost* as hard as this blog, thanks you you & Harry.

    The first rule of Men with Pens, is do talk about Men with Pens…

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..farmer, or fisherman?

  30. Okay, if we’re as cool as Fight Club, then I’m happy.

  31. I calls it like I sees it…

    Now it’s time for a beer, for I am PROMETHEUS, I have created fire!

    (the flame sensor on my furnace wasn’t working, so I fixed it – as I’m sure James would tell you, when you live in the middle of nowhere, you need to be handy)

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..farmer, or fisherman?

  32. Well said James. Most people never earn the privilege of running a successful business. There’s a world of difference between efficiency and being effective. Or profitable for that matter.

    As Peter Drucker once said, โ€œThere is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.โ€

    Joe ๐Ÿ˜€

  33. James, as a successful business owner I wanted to add that most people never transcend beyond the simple game of exchanging time for money.

    The bigger game is to create value and solve problems on a grander scale. Another strategy is to recreate the business model to serve the unmet needs of the market, not just feather our own nest.

    Joe ๐Ÿ˜€

    P.S. I’ve spent plenty for consultants advice and sometimes it’s worth 10X their fee.


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