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How to Think Like a CEO and Grow Your Small Business

How to Think More Like a CEO and Less Like an Idiot

It didn’t happen as planned.

In fact, I didn’t have a plan.

But, one thing led to another and…

I now have a small business to run, burp, feed, and (hopefully) grow.

And it consumes most of my waking hours.

Don’t get me wrong…I’m not complaining—I’m proud of BlogWorks, our team, the results we get for our clients and how we are growing.

What worries me is that I’m not growing—still running around like an idiot, instead of trying to think like a CEO.

Sound familiar?

Before I get to some solutions I’ve discovered that are increasing my sales and my bottom line, let me take you briefly back to the beginning.

Once upon a time…

I was driving to Vancouver to present to a small gathering of new and experienced speakers when it happened.

I’d been wondering how I could help other small business owners promote their blog on social media. At that time I had been publishing links to my blog into my news feed on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter and seeing good results.

In my hotel room, the night before the meeting, I threw together a quick offer sheet for a blog promotion service similar to what I had been using.

One-third of the room bought it.

One month later the system was up and running, I had 3 contractors writing updates and I had a new business.

Fast forward to today…

I’m now into my 7th year owning BlogWorks and my little start-up has surpassed my speaking income and (as these things go) takes up most of my working time (and worries).

You might be a seasoned veteran or be nurturing your own startup. Either way, you will know the stresses, uncertainty, worry, and hard work that comes with the “freedom” of entrepreneurship.

As a bit of a serial entrepreneur (I think it’s been 40 years since I received a paycheck), I have one big blind spot.

I keep returning to the scene of the crime.

Let me explain.

We all suffer from an error in thinking called cognitive bias.1If you want to dive into the science behind cognitive bias there’s no end of research into this twist in our wiring. Like this article about why MBA graduates start businesses. We tend to see things based on our experience, not on reality. Or in my language: stupid-ass thinking.

You, me, everyone loves to be right. Instead of stepping back to find a new, better solution we look for reasons we are right.

It looks like this:

  • • I think if I do something myself (instead of delegating or outsourcing) it will be faster and better.
  • • My default response is to give detailed instructions (even write them up), instead of empowering employees to be creative and create their own solutions.
  • • I bloat my Flight Plan2I walk you through my complete Plan Like A Pilot system, including how to create a Flight Plan in this post. for this week with 3 weeks’ worth of work.
  • • Instead of phoning a warm lead (and possibly getting a quick sale), I spend my time inventing large-scale marketing schemes that often go nowhere.

Yeah, I’m an idiot.

What scares me, even more, is that I keep repeating the same dough-headed behaviour.

How to think like a CEO and less like an idiot

I’ve come to the uncomfortable conclusion that I will always make bad decisions. I’ve also discovered small shifts in my thinking and planning can pay big dividends.

But wait…

Doesn’t owning a small business mean I need to think BIG and dream up massive world-conquering schemes that attract venture-capital-backed takeovers and eventual buyouts by Google (or Amazon)?

I don’t think so.

The story behind most successful businesses is usually not a hockey-stick growth curve, but actually more a slow grind.

Tobias Lütke lived in his in-law’s basement in Ottawa for 13 years while he was building the Shopify.

Stewart Butterfield struggled through some pretty lean years before he pivoted an internal communication tool for his team into the global phenomenon called Slack.

And John Foley spent his weekends flogging his new stationary bike Peloton in shopping malls for 2 years before he could afford a salesperson.

Looking at successful businesses, like Shopify, Slack, and Peloton and their celebrity founders it’s hard to imagine them sloughing it out through the lean years. It’s also hard to imagine all the dumb decisions they must have made.3To learn more about the founders mentioned here, listen to the remarkable start-up stories of Tobias Lütke, of Shopify, John Foley of Peloton, and Stewart Butterfield of Slack being interviewed by Guy Raz on NPR’s How I Built This.

But they did.

If we want success we have to work through our blind spots, limitations, and fears. It’s those small forks in the road that make us stronger and smarter business leaders.

How about you? Are you growing in your business or repeating the same thinking offenses over and over?

Here’s what I’m working on to think like a CEO

1. Build your business, not your To-Do list.

Your To-Do list is sort of like Dobby in the Harry Potter series. It will hang onto your pant leg, slowing you down until you give it some attention. The trick is to both keep your eye on what builds your business and give much of your list a new owner (#2).

A quick test is to see if you have tasks on your To-Do list that scare you. Like calling a past client for more business or renegotiating a bad contract or coaching a team member.

If your list is mostly easy, time-consuming tasks there’s a good chance you need both refocus on growth and outsource.

2. Outsource quickly and completely.

Every entrepreneur takes on low-value, repetitive (often technical) work they should not be doing. It could be learning how to make your new shopping cart play nice with your CRM, set up an email sequence in MailChimp, or design your new LinkedIn banner in Canva.

What seems like a 5-minute job ends up consuming half a day and, in the end, still isn’t perfect.

Here’s the thing about outsourcing…

Outsourcing is like going to the gym: unless you start it will look uncomfortable, expensive, and unlikely to succeed. Fortunately, tools like Upwork and Freelancer make it dead easy to post a job, find a freelancer, and get the work done.4I described my process for quickly hiring great writers in this post. Even if you aren’t in the market for writers, you will learn how to use the filters in Upwork to quickly select and test good candidates.

Some jobs I recently outsourced include:

  • • New headers for our social media channels.
  • • Redesign of my newest lead magnet “Million Dollar Blog.”
  • • Writing and circulating writing tips for our team at BlogWorks.
  • • Creating a new opt-in sequence.
  • • Building software for a new headline analyzer.
  • • Simplifying our site to make navigation easier.

If you’re looking to outsource your blog writing, book a consultation with us to learn how to double your blog traffic!

3. Do one thing better.

We’re all human and change is hard. But, changing one thing at a time is not only very possible, but it’s also all we can do.

Maybe that’s why The One Thing by Kelly and Papasan was such a massive hit on the best seller’s list. Their advice is simple: if you want to create a massive change in your life and work, keep asking yourself “What’s the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

“If you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one.” Russian proverb

To prime your pump, here are some “one things” I’m doing:

  • • No email or social media before 9:00 (that’s 4 hours after I wake up).
  • • Follow up immediately after a meeting or client call.
  • • Block my time for important work.5I explain how to block time and how transformational this can be to your productivity and focus in this post.
  • • Write every morning for 90 minutes.
  • • Exercise every day for a minimum of 45 minutes.

If improving your writing is your next goal, check out our FREE Ultimate Writing Template!

There is no single road map to success in business. All we have is the path carved by those ahead of us and our steering wheel. The more I drive down this road the more I realize how often I let others pull on the wheel or I let go altogether.

If your goal is to have a profitable, sustainable (hopefully fun) business you have to grab hold of the wheel, think like a CEO, and keep making small changes to point you in the direction of that goal.

Enjoyed this rant? Here are 3 more articles about strategy and doing the right stuff:

Why you need Standard Operating Procedures in your business.
How to build your perfect performance dashboard in just 5 minutes.
A survival guide for small business owners in a crisis (or anytime).

Article Author

Hugh Culver

Founder of BlogWorks. Hugh co-created the world’s most expensive tours (to the South Pole), has presented to over 1,200 audiences as a professional speaker and loves to explore new ways to show up like it's the day before vacation.

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