Have you ever dreamt that you worked in a flexible job where you don’t have office hours, you can work from anywhere in the world, you’re not asked to be available for phone calls all the time, you’re not asked to immediately respond to every request and you can work in a way that suits you?
In the past I have mentioned that my business is based on this concept; which means that I don’t ask the people who work with me to always be available in real time. We don’t have phone calls, meetings, or things that might interrupt us. We choose when we wish to be interrupted from our work.
If you’re interested in this kind of business model, either as an employee or as an entrepreneur, here’s a summary of a book that explains exactly how to do this: “6 rules and 14 tips to be successful with a different approach” from the book “Rework” by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier.
This is the book for you if you are a born entrepreneur – for example, someone who wants to launch, manage and run their own business – a self-employed person if you are a craftsman, for example, who operates their own small business every day, or even if you are a salaried employee who is tired of the routine of the job, of your boss, and who longs for a change of direction.
Rule #1: Small and frugal can be the key to success.
The business world has changed and a new dynamic has emerged. A company can be small and have millions of customers. Technology means that employees and work colleagues can be spread around the world and can run a business without the need to work in the same offices or meet face to face.
That’s exactly how my business works. In my team, there are people from all over the world. We don’t have a physical office. There are people that work in Quebec, France, Great Britain, Morocco, Tunisia, Madagascar, Japan…
It is possible to develop one’s business without huge amounts of money; without the need to sell to large companies; and you can stay as a small business without the threat of bankruptcy. This new dynamic also has its sceptics.
Rule #2: To achieve meaningful change, your starting point requires you to no longer perform unnecessary tasks and to break free from old misconceptions.
Rule #3: Ignore “real life”.
Very often in life we have a perception that our own dreams are impossible to attain whereas it’s a realistic scenario for other people.
The story behind the start-up, 37 Signals, demonstrates that real life is just imaginary; it’s just an excuse not to try.
You need to be aware that 37 Signals is now called Basecamp and it’s the authors’ company. It’s a successful company. Their Basecamp organizational software is a huge success.
It’s also a very influential company. The Ruby on Rails language programme was developed there, for example. They achieved this phenomenal success without an actual office. When they took the decision that most of their team would work from wherever they wanted, most people told them they were crazy, that, as a rule, this wasn’t the way to do things.
Rule #4: To learn from your mistakes is overrated.
Anglo-Saxon entrepreneurial culture values failure. This is very different from the French entrepreneurial culture, which does not value failure at all.
The authors’ point of view is that to fail is to have tried and this is positive in the eyes of Anglo-Saxon society. But they believe that failure is not a precondition for success, especially because failure does not offer you any advice on what your next move or project should be.
I fully agree with the authors, but with the caveat that as someone who comes from a francophone entrepreneurial culture, I also see the damage that can be caused if you don’t learn from the experience of failure.
But the authors are right to say that we should not go completely the other way, i.e. there are some entrepreneurs who are so aligned to this process that they believe “Ok, mistakes are good, we learn from them, so let’s get things wrong to begin with and then we will see what happens”.
But you shouldn’t aim for failure. Failure is something that happens despite the fact that you have tried your hardest to succeed.
If it happens to you when you have given it your all, don’t let that be a reason for you to give in. You have to make the best of what you can from that failure, but certainly don’t aim to fail, even if it’s only subconscious.
The authors’ advice is that when you start a project, the most important thing is to move forward and not to look back.
[Rich Father Poor Father by Robert Kiyosaki is a must-read in order to achieve financial independence]
Rule #5:e To plan is to guess.
A common myth in modern management is the long-term plan. You have to draw up a business plan, i.e. a table that generally shows that in 3 years, you will become the master of the world.
Of course, this is unrealistic. I completely agree with the authors on this issue.
I only had to do a business plan once, when I started my very first company, because I had to convince the bank and financial backers to provide backing for my company. But in reality, you just put numbers in and it doesn’t mean anything.
I agree with the writers’ opinion. They say that the markets, technology, the customers are all criteria that are impossible to predict.
To make a plan is therefore to take a guess: to estimate what the company’s revenues will be, what your competitors will do, or how quickly your employees will be able to develop the new version of your product. Otherwise, if you make a plan, you simply guess at what will happen in the future, which is impossible.
On the other hand, the book promotes the idea that you should make decisions about what you should do next week or next month, because that is more realistic. The decision must be more aligned to the current situation.
Rule #6: Sometimes growth is not needed.
Leaders frequently seek to grow their business, in terms of employees, clients and sales, as they believe that is what they should do.
But beware! This rush to be forever bigger is not necessarily healthy and once you start on that path, you can’t turn back.
Once your company has grown to over 100 employees, you can’ t go back.
And in order to achieve that level, generally, it leads you to be a workaholic, who neglects the other things in life, which may even include your wife and children.
It’s a sad fact that there have been many entrepreneurs who have seen their marriages or relationships fail, mainly due to the fact that they devoted too much time to their business rather than their partner.
The result is that you lose track of the hours you spend to try to come up with the solutions you need to solve all of the various problems of both the business and those of your clients, mainly because you spend more time at work, which causes you to have more work! But when you consider all this, what is the point of it?
For your information, these days Basecamp has 54 employees, even though it has existed for almost 20 years ago. They are a far cry from a huge company, but they are a successful little business that works well and efficiently.
14 tips to put this philosophy into practice at home
Tip #1: Make your mark on the universe.
To start a business, you have to feel passionate about it, to be convinced that you can offer something new to solve the problems that exist.
I’m not convinced that you necessarily have to come up with a completely new idea, but at least you have to provide your customers with something of value.
The authors continue: you have to start with the problems that you personally identify with, which, in general, is good starting point for a business idea. If you manage to do this, then you become your first customer.
It’s a good thing to quickly confirm if your idea works and will have a chance of success, with you as the guinea pig, in relation to the first version of your product: what will it be like, the things you should put in place once you get your first customer.
This will enable you to do something without delay, with no need for a lot of staff or the perfect plan to fulfil your aims. Even at this point, you’re already way ahead of the majority of people who do absolutely nothing
Often the hardest part is to get a product off the ground, to actually commit some ideas to paper.
Not enough time, that’s no excuse. Everyone has better things to do and the requirements aren’t always glamorous.
For instance, do you know how much time people spend hours every day in front of the television. In France alone, it’s almost 4 hours a day. Imagine all that wasted time. If all these people utilised this time to build their business, there would be a lot more entrepreneurs in the French-speaking world.
We protect our own ego with the excuse of the lack of time, the fear of failure is often too strong.
To make a start-up easier, the most practical way is to draw a line in the sand.
A line represents what you do or will do, versus what you won’t do.
Why is it in the sand?
Because you have to stay flexible and allow yourself to choose this line. You will say to yourself, for example, “Okay, from now on, I promise myself that I will never watch more than half an hour of television a day and that I will never do less than an hour’s worth of work on my business start-up project”.
If you know what you want and what you don’t want from the start, it will be beneficial and will allow you to organize yourself.
Tip #2: Keep it small and simple.
Do not write a “Mission Statement”, i.e. there’s no need to write down what your mission will be on a piece of paper.
These documents are a professional statement of faith. If you follow the advice of their followers, you will list what you will do in the future, the company you want to build. But if you do that you will neglect the most important thing, the question isn’t what you want to be, but who you are. Don’t write, it’s pointless.
Then, finance your business yourself. Other people’s money is really plan Z, the plan of last resort.
Don’t consider finance from an investor or a business angel. If you must invest in the business, do it with your own money. Then your decisions will be completely different.
Besides, you need less than you think. Some paper, a pen and a computer are enough to get started.
And here I completely agree with them, that’s exactly how I started my second business which, these days, generates a very good income for me and allows me to travel for 6 months a year and that’s precisely what I did with no financial support whatsoever and with extremely limited resources.
The authors go on to tell you to start a business, not a start-up: “When you start a business, it’s to see it grow for years, not to sell it after 4 years. Besides, if you build to double, you build to fail”, i.e. build to quickly reach a specific figure in order to sell.
On the theme of the famous exit strategy, the authors remind us that you don’t start a relationship with the aim to break up.
Less capital, fewer employees, as few features as possible with regard to your products or services, in short, seek to create less bulk.
It has always been difficult to go on a diet, even for companies; but hang in there because it’s worth the price.
Tip #3: Accept the limitations.
If you happen to take acting classes, one of the exercises is to act out a scene whilst you feign a disability: don’t move your arm, don’t look to the right, for example. This exercise teaches you to follow a set of instructions over time.
And yes, constraints are good. When it comes to the start of a business, you should embrace limitations.
If you can’t get hold of everything that you need, it forces you to be inventive. It also means that you are not able to do too much, in an effort to do too well.
So it won’t be beneficial to have the perfect computer, the perfect office, the perfect website and the ideal employees. Make do with what you have now, rather than wait for tomorrow.
Tip #4: Build half of it rather than half build it.
This is a very important concept which, obviously, relates to the Lean Startup approach I’ve already talked about on this channel.
Work on the essentials but don’t mess up.
It is better to develop half of the product; but still make sure it’s functional and not a product that’s poor quality. And it is essential that you start with the basic features of your product. These features must be enough to make it an attractive product, at a minimum.
Work from the core of what gives value to your project and ignore unnecessary elements at the outset.
Tip #5: Make decisions.
If you make a decision it is progress.
It’s a fact that we all tend to keep lists of things to think about or reflect upon. Instead, isn’t the best thing to actually decide to not do something, or even better, to make a plan and actually do it? Either way, a decision can be reconsidered, but if you commit to it, you can make progress and show your progress. It’s counterintuitive, but it’s extremely powerful.
Tip #6: Concentrate and focus.
To move forward, you must be focused. You role should be similar to that of a museum curator in that you remove all non-essential parts of the collection.
A good curator puts their soul into their choices for exhibitions, with a selection and recommendation of works that they themselves have enjoyed. This will allow you to move forward with moderation. You’ll find yourself with fewer problems, and you’ll gain a sense of perspective.
Added to this, you will be able to concentrate on the things that don’t change, so that you don’t lose focus.
And remember this quote: “With your focus on the permanent features of products, you will go to sleep every day with things that will never go out of style”.
Also focus on the work, not the tools. The tone is in your fingers, not the instrument. This is the saying that good musicians tell bad musicians when they blame their guitar or piano for the wrong notes.
Some people are drawn to tools. They believe in the miracle tool, the one that will solve everything.
Forget that idea now, it’s a question of competence first and foremost.
Tip #7: Don’t wait to launch the perfect product, one you are not ashamed of.
Don’t wait, get to market as quickly as possible, get as much feedback as possible and be sure to sell your products.
Tip #8: Learn to be productive.
Be mindful of something that seems to be an agreement.
Sometimes you can think that you have discussed and supplied work for a client who hasn’t signed up for it and then, unfortunately, doesn’t pay for the work you have done.
It’s a common occurrence for people to go in to a work project without any specific documents, when, in fact, you need something on paper that clearly defines the scope of the work to be done.
Bear in mind that there will be many scenarios that will make you question if what you do is feasible, and that you should always reflect and take other options into consideration when you are in this situation.
When it comes to productivity, everyone knows that any form of interruption is the absolute enemy, but these authors go further and take a radical stance on a key element of business today.
Their opinion is that meetings are toxic, that a meeting is a waste of money given the number of people who attend and the time it involves.
“Not bad is good,” They say that a simple solution that works and solves the current issues is better than a perfect solution that would take a long time to come to fruition.
Also, you should focus on small victories. With each one, your motivation will grow and you will continue the adventure. Enthusiasm can quickly evaporate and the more rhythmic your journey, the quicker you will gain the momentum to keep your courage up and pursue your goals. There’s no point to try to be some sort of hero.
The education system we have pushes us to excel, to be David in front of Goliath. But this approach causes us to neglect the reality of the situation, work too hard and not come up with a solution.
So you should always try to get some help or advice; share the problem with other people and get enough sleep so that you stay alert and fit for action. Far too many entrepreneurs don’t get enough sleep.
Take small steps.
Everyone is rubbish with estimations. They nearly always fail to meet their targets, so take small steps. Just try to give more short-term estimates that are more realistic rather than some ridiculous 3 year business plan that is just a guess.
Yes, long to-do lists are never completed. Everyone has experienced this.
The workload overwhelms us, we write a to-do list that we never manage to accomplish. What’s worse, we feel guilty that we don’t manage to accomplish all of it.
So as not to get discouraged, just make small changes.
The authors use Ben Saunders, who reached the North Pole on a solo walk after 72 days, as an example
How did he do it?
Ben confides that the only decisions he made were to reach the mass of ice in front of him and do the same thing the next day. He broke down his extremely ambitious goal into small, easily achievable steps.
Tip #9: Engage with the competition.
Competition is a good thing. It stimulates competitiveness and ensures that the big companies do not sit on their profits. But you also have to take it on and make yourself stand out.
To achieve this, the authors offer a number of recommendations, listed below:
- Do not copy.
Imitation is a passive attitude that does not create value. Sooner or later, customers get tired of it and choose original solutions.
- De-commoditize your product in the globalized economy, everyone does the same thing or something very similar.
So, as opposed to a product that is commonplace; you need to identify unique attributes and develop a product that is more than just a commodity.
- Choose your battles.
Personality also means that you know when to say no or go against what is deemed to be the norm, when you think it’s right.
It’s not the accepted norm to badmouth a competitor or mention something bad that you have heard about them, as it is not the reaction that most people expect. But people love conflict and to have their own opinion on things. If you take a stand on something it often makes you more visible and causes a point of interest.
However, be careful not to get a reputation of someone who just hates competitors and also be mindful that in a lot of countries, you are forbidden to talk about a competitor, especially in a derogatory tone, especially in French-speaking countries like France. Basically, it’s illegal. If you speak in derogatory terms about a competitor and they take you to court, there’s a very good chance that you will lose and it could cost you a lot of money in damages. So be careful how you do it. A bit of news is always the way we prefer to do things.
- Simply what you offer in comparison to your competitors and, in general, don’t worry about the things they do.
Indeed, rather than always attempt to outdo or outperform your competitors, if you undercut them it helps to keep it simple, lean and means you don’t have too many choices for customers to worry about.
Tip #10: Learn to say “No”.
“No” is the automatic default answer that the authors suggest. Once again, they warn us on growth and the retention of control.
If you don’t enhance your product or business, due to the fact that there is no need to, it shows you have the ability and confidence to say “No” when a potential customer wants to see a certain function within the product.
Rather than say “yes, we can”, you should carefully consider your options and not rush into a decision.
So, don’t allow your customers to influence your business decisions. If a business client has significantly grown, they will probably have greater needs; which means that they may well need more specialized functions.
Rework stresses the point that you don’t always have to keep up with all of your customer’s needs or expectations.
When you think about it in detail, it will become clearer. The more the product is used by a medium-sized company with specific features, the more complex this same product becomes and consequently moves further away from the simpler needs of the majority of other businesses.
So when you plan your products and services, don’t confuse “enthusiasm” with “prioritization”. Sometimes people get excited about details and focus on trivial things. The key elements that add value to the product, once the customer receives it at home, are overlooked.
Ergonomics, or the practicality of the product, are important things to pay attention to. The product must be developed based on feedback from current customers.
Tip #11: Do marketing 101, One O One, as our Anglo-Saxon friends say, which means marketing for beginners.
To do this, you must be able to embrace the unknown.
The idea is simple, you have the advantages of the disadvantages.
When you start a new business, nobody knows you, nobody notices you. So you have the freedom to try things out, to make mistakes; which won’t have too much impact on your business.
That’s exactly what I tell my audience. I always say, “when you start out on the web, whether it’s a YouTube channel, a blog, a start-up or whatever, there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that, to start with, only your mother will follow what you do, and the good news is that only your mother will follow what you do to start with. So, you don’t need to worry if something is absolutely perfect, or not, because she will tell you that it is great anyway. You can just go for it.
The authors go on to say, “screw it up, but screw it up whilst you build up a following as you go along, an audience that’s loyal to your content and your ideas.
The author has had a blog for more than 10 years that has tens of thousands of followers. He has built a loyal following of readers with high quality articles. His readers are potential customers and potential channels to pass on his message.
Secondly, nobody likes plastic flowers. We all prefer real ones. So rather than seek to be the ultimate professional at all times; the authors suggest that you retain some of the little impurities that reveal your personality.
In relation to this, it is exactly what I do on my YouTube channel or in a video. Sometimes I make pronunciation mistakes, sometimes I stumble a little on a word.
I could easily avoid this with software that allows me to edit this out or I could have my video editor take care of it, but I like it.
Not all of them, but I like to leave a few because nothing is perfect, we are all human. I think it adds a little bit of a human touch and also it highlights the fact that it’s part of the overall message that “there’s no point in waiting to be perfect to do something”.
Then you need to outperform your competitors in how you teach people.
Offer them more advice, more tips and techniques. Train them on new ideas or technologies.
Give first and then receive, once you have built up trust with your audience. This is a technique widely used by cooks. They share their recipes in countless cookbooks. These books serve both as an income stream in and of themselves, a spin-off product; but they also serve to build an image and reputation.
Rework recommends that you go even further and let visitors go behind the scenes; see what goes on backstage, and reveal how things are actually done. Allow customers to meet the people who make the product or service, humanize the company and make it more attractive.
What could be easier these days?
Take your smartphone, film your company’s quizzes in HD, introduce the people on your team and put it on YouTube. It will only take a few minutes, it’s authentic and people will love it.
How do you get your potential customers to try your products and appreciate how unique they are?
Rework provides a clear-cut answer. Drug dealers do it well.
They offer a small amount for free, or very cheap and this leads to potential clients to become loyal users of their products.
Of course, drugs are poison. But this is just an illustration, at the marketing level, that they have understood everything.
You always have the option to give a free sample to your potential clients; in order to highlight to them that your product is the perfect one for them.
Tip #12: Recruitment advice.
To start with you should try to do the job yourself, especially if it’s a customer-facing job; like customer support lines, sales… This way, you’ll appreciate the ins and outs of the job and once you can’t handle it any longer you will know it is time to hire someone else to do it.
This all sounds fairly obvious, but, surprisingly, it’s not how many people approach it.
When you’re a business leader, you could follow the example of Steve Jobs, the charismatic founder of Apple.
Jobs only wanted to work with those he thought were exceptional; and he had a reputation to hire someone he admired on the spot.
Contrarily, Rework, advises us to even permit exceptional people to leave.
Avoid the cocktail party syndrome: When you mingle with strangers with a drink in your hand; are very polite and avoid any arguments.
A company should consist of different personalities with strong beliefs.
To base one’s analysis of candidates on conventional factors is not the way you should approach the situation. If you value experience above the relevance of their profile to the job, you’ll get nowhere. It is far better to focus on how and why candidates have worked in a particular field rather than on for how long.
The authors put a lot of emphasis on this point.
Forget about diplomas, which only reflect a certain skill in the past and which are often too rigid in their nature. And this, as written by the author of the book, “Not everyone is lucky enough to fail their studies”, which I can only totally agree with.
The next point is that everyone works in small teams. The important thing is to be productive.
Employ self-employed people, or in other words, consider freelancers.
Lastly, the best people are all over the world. The Internet makes it easy to get people on the other side of the world to work for you, so why not take advantage of that?
Hire the best writers.
When it comes to job interviews, people are often indecisive. It’s hard to decide between 2 or 3 candidates. Rework encourages you to hire the person who is the best storyteller, either written or verbal. It is a way to detect the ability to synthesize, communicate and empathize.
Test your future employees.
If you simply read a CV or conduct an interview, it’s not enough. You have to test your applicants with a real-life scenario, which will really challenge them.
If you are in search of a photographer, you’d look at their photos. So if it’s someone to answer the customer’s queries on the phone, why not have them pick up the phone?
Tip #13: Take responsibility for mistakes.
When you’re a business owner, there are times when things go wrong. These problems are your responsibility as it’s your products that have caused the issue.
Whether you’re the boss of a multinational oil company or a small neighbourhood business, you have to be able to deal with these problems.
Be strong enough to be the person who breaks the bad news.
If you come across as humble and sincere, you will convey the company’s awareness to its customers.
Be quick about it and direct. The faster you respond, the more credible you will be to your customers. And be careful how you say you’re sorry, in the first person “I’m sorry” and not “we apologize”, which comes across as rather vague.
Avoid hollow or hypocritical expressions such as “we are sorry for the inconvenience created” which basically shows no empathy towards the customer’s situation.
Go for it Franco! Make a good, honest, sincere apology.
Whatever it may happen to be, the book suggests you put everyone in the line of fire.
Of course, sales or phone support people are in regular contact with customers. Everyone also means that the engineers and technicians; who make your product must also be made aware of the customers’ feedback. This is imperative if you want to avoid the spread of malicious gossip about your company.
And Rework offers you one last bit of advice: take a breath.
When you are first given critical feedback on a new product; it’s important to stay calm and distinguish the good points from the bad ones.
Tip #14: Build up your company’s culture.
Corporate culture is a mysterious concept for many of us. Rework reiterates that a culture is not created; but comes as a result of consistent behavior, day in and day out.
In a small company, the decisions made should be for the short term and it’s best not to worry too much about hypothetical future scenarios: “what if…”
Articulate your ideas to your employees. Do not look to hire rock stars and make sure that you talk to your employees like adults because they are not teenagers.
At 5pm make sure that you tell them to go home. This approach is the complete opposite of a boss who runs the business like a tyrant; and when you understand the effect this has, it simply becomes common sense. In a knowledge-based and creative environment, you need a fresh and clear mind.
I don’t agree with the authors on this point; even though there are many similar traits between the Rework philosophy and the one I use to run my company. The big difference, mainly due to the fact that we don’t have an office; is that my freelancers work all over the world and we don’t have an office schedule. So it doesn’t make sense to say “we send people home at 5 o’clock” because there’s no need for anyone to be in the office at 9 o’clock, they work whenever they want.
It’s basically the same as their advice, to hire people who are self-employed and run their own lives.
The people who work for me work when they want; from where they want and I don’t care where they are in the world because; as long as the work is delivered on time, it doesn’t have to be synchronized. We don’t ask anyone to interact in real time; there are no phone calls, there are no meetings and that gives them a lot of freedom.
Obviously, it’s not for everyone. But for those people who like freedom and autonomy, the work conditions and expectations are truly exceptional.
Another bit of advice from the writers is: “Don’t create situations where a yes or no answer will lead to major conflicts, be who you are and not the perfect boss, that you might wish to be.”
Prohibit the acronym ASAP (as soon as possible) and treat it as if it were something toxic. Also, prohibit the use of these 4-letter words; need, can’t and easy.
- The book “ReWork: Change the Way You Work Forever” on Amazon
- Video: How to attract TALENT and travel everywhere with the ASYNCHRONE company (conference at CJD)