Minimalism is a big area despite its name. So I will summarise the concepts that I see impacting small business while also letting you know what we do at Saasu. What we do in software is just as applicable to any business where you’re designing a product or a service. My examples might be a bit more software-centric, but you can easily translate it to your business model.

Execution trumps ideas

I’d like to look at this from the perspective of what minimalism can do for your business. First, we have to understand the key drivers of success in business, because minimalism is about reducing down what you do and have, so we must be sure it allows the most critical factors of success to survive.

One of the main concepts in business success is your ideas (intellectual property). To the new business person, without battle scars, these are taken to be the most important thing in a business. In reality, and what many investors will also back is, the skills of execution are more important. Execution converts ideas into reality. Execution has way more impact on success than ideas do. Ideas are down the ladder of importance, including in financial value. Much further than people think.

Focus is the ace of spades. It is the sharpening and honing of your use of time and skills during execution. It ensures your execution is applied to very specific goal related activities. No matter how good you are at executing, if you’re not on focus, it’s a massive waste of energy and resources.

Focus applied to execution is the force multiplier in terms of business success.

Great focus applied to great execution applied to great ideas has an inbuilt compounding effect.

Photo by magic on flickr

To complete the train of thought we need to understand what the essence of focus is. I think it’s minimalism. Some call it essentialism. It’s the sweet undiluted cordial before you add the water.

Driven by a goal focus

Being driven by a goal focus is really important. If you think about maximalism, you do so much but probably only 10% of it actually relates to the goal you need to work on. The other 90% is less intentional things you do, buy and experience. Minimalism helps reduce or remove a lot of that and cause you to focus in on the essentials.

Focus improves the balance that most people have between what they actually do versus what they need to do. That Venn diagram doesn’t cross over very much for most people because they’re not goal focused. You can only remain focused if you have a minimalist mindset. You have to look deeply at the few things you really need to do. That is being a minimalist.

Saying no is the ultimate skill. It’s hyper selective.

Saying no a lot is really important. It’s about being hyper selective in terms of what you take on. Think of it like a funnel, there’s a big pool of opportunities at the start of the funnel and the best opportunities are what you want to drop out at the end. You need to be very specific, you don’t want to be wasting time on anything other than those few best opportunities. We tend to operate way too high up the funnel. We want to because we’re collectors by nature and we want to take on lots of projects, lots of sales opportunities, lots of design ideas, product updates etc. We want to take on lots of that stuff. We tend to want to do more, go bigger and work harder.

What we end up doing is being unfocused and not selecting down to the best opportunities. We need to be more like an art director. They’ve got a thousand paintings and can only show a select few in the gallery. They’ve got to narrow down from a massive number of paintings. We need to do the same when we’re thinking about what we spend our time on in business, and what we put our employees to work on with our capital.

Embracing design culture

There aren’t as many details in a minimalist design for any brand, product or service so each one really matters. It’s important to absorb design ideas and follow designers like Jonathan Ives, IDEO, Elon Musk. These people and their companies are re-setting how we look at the future whether you like them personally or not.

We also need to embrace a design culture. It’s really important because design culture in itself creates a minimalist frame of mind. There aren’t too many details in a good design, just ones that really matter. Essentially, if you’re just focusing on the things that really matter, the design and workload become simple. This is simply because you aren’t trying to do too much.

My suggestion is that if you really want to embrace a design culture, put yourself amongst it. Start looking at blogs or videos out there on different designers. Just get into all types of things that are minimalist in terms of architecture, even lifestyle design. Check out people like Elon Musk and Jonathan Ives, who was Apple’s head designer. Read up on them and you’ll start to see their mindset. You’ll start to think in terms of design which will reinforce the whole minimalist philosophy.

Acquire and consume quality not just in life but in business

Shift your thinking to acquiring and consuming only quality. That’s about capability, longevity and riskiness. I once got an Alessi Kettle as a gift. This was way back when I got married and we’ve been using it for over 15 years and it’s still going strong. It’s just not going to fail on us. This is just because of the way that this thing is built.

You’ve got to look at things for their quality. Train yourself to have a sharper eye for these things. Buy one quality kettle and you probably won’t need another for another 20 years. You’re going to end up having five or six kettles over the next 10 years if you bought them cheaply from Kmart or Target. Buy quality and buy less.

Avoid vanity metrics.

Create emotional metrics. Customer are emotional buyers. How you, customers and employees feel matters. How loyal, well crafed, environmentally friendly and honest you are causes sales.

I think in terms of avoiding things like vanity and thus having lots of vanity metrics in business. People have too many KPI’s that are just vanity metrics. It’s about their ego. How many employees, how much revenue. They get obsessed over them. You’ve got to have some really good financial metrics, but it’s also really important to have emotional metrics. The reason is because minimalism is a feeling as much as anything else.

What I am not saying is that large amounts of revenue or employees are bad. What I’m saying is that you are tracking the bi-product rather than the cause of success. Apple is successful because of emotional metrics like customer loyalty, aesthetics and product quality (re-buying trends, customer reviews, net promoter scores etc). Their vanity metrics like revenue and numbers of employees look amazing as a result. These later KPI’s weren’t their growth drivers though.

If you want customers to feel you are a really simple and clean service or product offering, then you really need to be monitoring their emotional metrics. You need to know what they feel good about.

What do you do that you’re proud of? Maybe you have a really clean, designed product or service that is environmentally friendly, or you’re product or service exudes honesty and authenticity. All of these things are metrics that you can look at. They can even be really simple, such as how happy customers are in dealing with you. You’ve got to think them up for your business vertical, but it’s important to think about emotional metrics.

Clean, clear minds allow critical thinking

Decisions you make add or remove things in your business. Are your decisions mostly adding tasks, ideas or are they clearing and simplifying types of decisions? We need to think critically if we are to create minimalist outcomes.

Recognise Assumptions > Gather Data > Analyse > Test Conclusions

A persistent effort to examine any belief of supposed form of knowledge in light of the evidence that supports or refutes it and the further conclusions to which it tends. Clean, clear minds allow critical thinking. If you’ve got a minimalist mindset, you’re going to start to realise that you’re thinking about a lot of unneeded, unnecessary things. You’ll see that you should put aside many of these thoughts and ideas. They are just distractions. You’ve got all this clutter in your brain on things that you shouldn’t be thinking about. Things you can’t build for another year, things you can’t do because it’s just unrealistic etc.

Business model simplicity

Capitalism to some degree has been hijacked by investors. They don’t want you to go all the way alone. That doesn’t work for them. They push capital raising models that might not suit you or your business model.

Every investor seems to know what’s best for your business. They think their goals are aligned with yours, but they are not.

There are real alternatives to their version of capitalism that are valid, simple, and minimalist in their approach. Some of these are lower stress and have reduced business risk. They can have less return but sometimes more. It’s not clear cut.

Blindspots and Blinkers in Capitalism

Money is great but what about meaning? Great companies set product/service goals 1st. Triple stakeholder model: Saasu exists for staff, customers & shareholders. Legitimately you can sacrifice financial returns for other valuable returns like less stress, debt & risk. Who hijacked capitalism with a rule that customer growth is the only new business objective instead of profitability, survivability & emotional stability. You’re a cheap call option – a dirty little VC secret.

Basecamp is a Great Case Study

In terms of capital raising. Sometimes raising money needs to be put aside so that you can have a clear mind and make good decisions. You need to remove it so you can think. Minimalism is about having that mental space.

Mostly, our minds tend to want to add. We just pile tasks and ideas in there and clutter the hell out of our brains. We start worrying about what’s in the future or what happened in the past, neither which are really relevant, because it’s just the present that matters. Capital raising is such a big piece of the picture for many that it completely fills your brain space. It gets really tough to make good decisions because you haven’t got into the critical thinking state.

It’s really important, in terms of running a minimalist business, to look at what it is you’re doing. Are you making assumptions about your market? About marketing techniques? About the products you’re building? You need some basic data to understand whether they’re relevant. You need to analyze that data and test your conclusions.

Think about it like this. In your space, what are the few things you want to do? You want to think really well about those few things, as opposed to doing lots and lots of activities in a maximalist way. Having lots of really messy convoluted thoughts doesn’t work. I always encourage my team to try and reduce down what they’re doing, and it’s hard for people to do that. They struggle with it. I even struggle with it sometimes, because I give them things to do and that’s just like piling them up with more stuff to do. That’s fairly maximalist when you’re operating that way. You’ve got to watch it when you’re a manager as well as an employee in a business. Be careful with how you do it, because you will clutter their brain landscape. How can they possibly be minimalists if you’re just piling things up in there for them to think about? Sending them lots of emails, asking them questions, getting them to do things etc.

Business model simplicity got totally hijacked in the last few decades. It obviously got hijacked in 2007 when all the banks got bailed out because capitalism had changed. You get bailed out if you’re big. The little guy doesn’t. Small businesses don’t have that luxury. However, what I’m talking here about here is capitalism being hijacked. Who was it that decided that business had to look a certain way? That it had to be about being massive? That it had to be about ongoing growth? Or that had to be all about shareholder returns? I don’t know who actually decided that, but there’s a lot of people who think that’s how it’s supposed to be. But that doesn’t mean it has to be that way. Minimalists will sometimes look at things a bit differently, and they’ll see that they don’t necessarily need to be that way because what they want to do is…. (insert your dream here!). They might want to run something that’s just the essential and pure, and that might not mean big. So it can be looked at in quite a different way. Don’t follow someone else’s playbook, don’t follow their journey. Make your own way.

Every investor and his dog knows what’s best for your business. I feel that myself often. I see hundreds of presentations and talks for startups where the traditional way of building a business is sold to people. It’s very rare to see people acknowledge other ways. Sometimes you’ll see someone like Jack Dorsey (CEO of Twitter) talk about how it’s okay to just have a business servicing customers and not have a need to make a big profit. Different people talking about different ways to approach business. Take a look at different ways. Saasu has a triple stakeholder model, for example. We exist to create returns, not just about the shareholder, but also employees and customers. We think that all three of those important to have a successful business in the long run.

You can also sacrifice financial returns to gain other valuable returns like less stress, less debt and less risk in your business. That’s a really good way to live. It’s a much nicer way for some people. Why does it have to be all about growth? Why does it have to be getting bigger? Why can’t it just be about an objective like being profitable, surviving and being emotionally stable? It could even just be about having a great product for the customer at the right price. It could be about being funded to keep the dream alive. You might be in a social enterprise, where all you want to do is just make enough money to keep things going. If it’s all about putting food in front of homeless people then you need to look at it from a different perspective.

There are some great case studies on this topic. Read the book Rework by the Basecamp team. The authors, Jason and David, are an excellent example of how you can run a very successful business that makes huge revenues (I think it’s in the tens or twenties of millions) but doing it in a non-traditional way.

Loving being lean

Being lean and minimalist is not for everyone.

Rich/Big/Engineered-Growth/MaximalistLean/Small/Organic-Growth/Minimalist
Shareholder complexity
Debt or convertibles
More likely capital raisings to grow
Steep growth curve
Requires momentum
Large risk surface through complexity
More stress
Lazy spend with other peoples money
More exit reward (sometimes)
Suits low barriers to entry
Shareholder simplicity
No debt
Grow from cashflow
Shallow growth curve
Less momentum needed
Small risk surface through simplicity
Less stress
Very personal spend
Less exit reward (sometimes)
Suits high barriers to entry

Minimalism in sales & marketing

Opportunity stack

The sales and marketing opportunity stack is where there’s a tendency in business for people to try fifty million things. Everyone’s desperate to get sales on the book, so people try lots of different things and they end up heavily diluting themselves. They put so much water in the cordial that there’s just no sweetness left. They also get very mixed results. I think this happens to big businesses. They can do too much and don’t really curate what they’re doing well enough. A minimalist approach forces you to only do the very best and apply critical thinking to work out what that is.

The image above (left) is an example of a waterfall list. As you can see there is more opportunity than ever. You need to experiment with different ways of selling and marketing, but you should be listing all of your ideas out and looking at them from the perspective of a return on investment, how much traffic they generate, or whatever your yardstick is. What you want to do is get as much data together and rank the things you’re doing in order. This is a performance index and it will help pick what you focus on. Look at what activities you can realistically do really well. It might mean adding things you’re not currently doing, but it might also mean taking a lot away and removing the clutter. Free up resources as you will need to experiment with different ideas within your industry.

In this example, I’ve highlighted in yellow the seven things that are the best performers. They’re probably the things to focus on for this particular business. Below that, there’s a gray area where things may or may not move up the ladder. Then lastly, there’s an orange area where these activities just don’t have the returns. They’re things where customer acquisition costs are too high, or the ROI is not there, and there’s data suggesting that you need to cut them out.

It’s about reducing down and having a portfolio approach to your activities. Out of that big portfolio of things you can be doing, being minimalist and selective on how you spend your time.

Brand ID and copy

Look at how Apple and Samsung sell. One is much more minimalist than the other.

Apple Watch – Photo credit Appleinsider.com
Samsung Gear – Photo credit ChristianLindholm.com

One of the things that will come up as soon as you start going into the sales and marketing area of minimalism is copy. With the image above, I just wanted to give you an obvious example. It’s amazing how many businesses still haven’t picked up on the benefits of being minimalist in their copy. You can see here the difference between the Apple watch in this magazine ad versus what Samsung did. Samsung is rapidly trying to catch up to Apple, but they still don’t do what Apple does in terms of marketing. They try, but you can see the difference between the left and the right. Samsung has their watch, but also a phone in their ad, they’ve got a pen, and plenty of written text etc. The Apple approach is very simple. It’s actually so simple that begs the question, ‘what is this?’ when you look at it. Apple can obviously get away with it because their brand is famous, which won’t necessarily work for a small business. Apple can do this because they’ve got an established brand, but I just want to make the point that it is far more impressive when you can have really clean copy and still project your brand message across to a customer.

Social networks

I believe minimalism in social is a really good idea. We changed this some time ago. We were doing a whole lot of different things in social but we’ve cut that back to a few things. We mainly focus on three or four key social networks (Twitter, Pinterest, Youtube, LinkedIn). It’s really easy to find yourself in 10 or 20. You just start signing up and trying to put content into them thinking you’re going to get a whole lot of traffic, but what you really do is just spread your time over a whole lot of very random social marketing exercises. Be picky about which networks you allocate resources to, because you need to build a critical mass of what I call wanted noise plus differentiated content in order to get some traction in a social network.

What you should be doing is the waterfall approach I showed earlier, where you’re looking at the performance of each and knocking things out that aren’t working. It’s important to be really picky in that respect. That means doing tests, such as running some test ads to see how they perform in a social network. I only learned last week that you need to be really careful of the results these systems tell you. The traffic stats these systems give you, I’ve often found, can be very inaccurate. If you’re using Twitter or you’re using LinkedIn and they’re reporting stats, make sure you check them back against your Google Analytics stats. They’ll be quite different, so you need to work out why.

Once you know you’ve got accurate data, and you’re confident, you can then make decisions about whether to keep doing the activity or knock it off the list. Try something else! It’s just complacency to hang out and persist with things that aren’t working. It’s better to keep a minimalist philosophy around marketing and re-engineering the small portfolio of things that you want to focus on.

Pricing

Likewise, pricing minimalism is also very effective. The airline companies really set the trend that we’ve known for a long time (with economy, business and first-class). From actuarial and behavioural analysis, we know people really start to struggle beyond three price points. Beyond this it’s too much choice. You can get away with one or two more, at the most, if your product has a complexity that demands it. But as soon as you go past five options you’re just in la-la land. This is because people just aren’t sure what to do. Google has done this beautifully just by having a couple of plans. They actually had just one up until about a year ago when they added an extra option which is all about backups and redundancy for their normal plan of five dollars a month for Google Apps.

Minimalist pricing makes it much easier for customers to make choices as you’re removing that decision barrier. It also makes your marketing material and communications to customers much simpler. Your customer service and help systems are simpler because explaining your service or your product differences is simpler. Take a look at some of the best restaurants in the world. They don’t have a huge menu and they don’t need to. To be successful, more does not mean better.

Some businesses charge more for more complexity, and nothing more than that. You might argue that it’s more choice, but it’s actually not more choice, because the choices are confusing. Consumers aren’t able to effectively analyze all those extra choices. They can’t make an informed decision because of all the variability. They can’t see the black box behind how you price your products. You’re tricking yourself if you think more price points translates to more choice.

Minimalism in strategy

Product

For product minimalism, I’ll use Apple again as an example. Simply because they were a classic example of product, sales and service simplicity (before Steve Jobs passed). Once, there were three nice coloured devices. Silver, white and black. Since then, they have exploded the range. It’s created some confusion for Apple because they’ve got so much product variation out there I’m not sure what’s still for sale and what is no longer for sale. I’m not sure what colours are available for the different devices because of all the products they offer now. It’s not clear anymore, but before it was really easy. You knew that when you picked one up, you had a choice of three.

KPI’s

KPI minimalism is about looking at your business but not looking to monitor fifty thousand different variables. I have seen things like that come across my desk where people have had huge spreadsheets tracking every single variable in their business. They end up missing really obvious things because they’ve got too many variables. Maybe use 3 historical, 3 present and 3 future-looking KPI’s per management role to start with.

The lesson here is not too many or you run the risk of missing the obvious. I was kicking myself recently because I missed something obvious in our business because I was looking at too much detail. The image above is an example of things I look at for our own business. We look at what sort of traffic we’re generating from campaigns or PR events. We’re try and attract inbound traffic. We’re looking at the inbound traffic we’re getting to our website or through the service team. I’m looking at how we nurture those customers through a trial phase and then look at how many people buy our product. Lastly, we look at how we hold those customers over time. So we’ve got five steps in the financial equation you might say. We don’t try and have any more than that. We just track those variables in a spreadsheet.

Those variables are sometimes built up from multiple bits of data. For example, inbound traffic. In our spreadsheet, we’re adding up things like the traffic to our website, traffic to our blog, traffic to youtube channels, things like that, to get that number. It still ends up being one sum variable at the end, which is mentally easy to manage. What we also try to do is make sure we’ve got some sort of future, past and present types of KPIs in there. We just keep it to three – three, three and three (instead of having ten or twenty of them). That’s how we’re minimalist in our approach there.

At the end of the day, data is hard to get because you’ve got to build systems to get the data. It costs a lot of money to build the systems to do that. It gets complex and accuracy falls away as you start having different systems in order to collect all of that extra data. You can’t necessarily trust it, because you’ve got humans writing queries and you’ve got to test all those queries to gain trust.

You get this compounding effect, where there’s a lot of data which might not be 100% accurate, is difficult to get, and has human compilation errors. One of the worst situation is where you’re getting data that you can’t use because you can’t action anything off it anyway, so you’re really just wasting resources.

You’ve got to be careful how you collect and use data. It compounds up and it isn’t necessarily going to be as accurate as you think. By having minimalism with your data you reduce those risks and reduce the risk of errors in the data, allowing you to trust the data more.

KPI DATA TIPS

  • Data is costly to gather – do less and be picky about what you collect
  • Too many data collectors – creates complexity and has accuracy costs
  • Trusting the system source – don’t assume the ad provider has accurate stats
  • Human compilation error – is highly likely when spreadsheets and DBS queries are used
  • Common mistake is to collect data you can’t actually action

Channels

You’re not just in the business of what you make, what you sell or what service you offer. You’re in the business of channel portfolio selection.

Rich BusinessesLean Businesses
Buses, Billboards and Banners
Hold Conferences
JV Channel partners
Sales Reps (Paid commissions)
Radio/TV
Cash incentives
Long free periods
Free install
Email/Direct mail marketing
Social Meetups
Digital Partner Direct Sales
Youtube/Vimeo/Content Marketing
Referral commissions and MLM
Short free trial
Term discounts
Lower total price

Looking at what small, lean, minimalist businesses do versus what the bigger, rich businesses do. Big businesses will tend to do stuff like buses, billboards, banners, hold conferences, have JV channel partners, sales reps etc. They’ll have distribution centers depending on the industry and all types of things, they’ll be into franchising, you name it.

A lean business has to be smarter though, and will tend to reduce down the activities they do. Instead of doing buses, billboards and banners, they’ll do something like social. Instead of holding a whole conference, they might do meetups or mini-conferences. They might use YouTube and Vimeo instead of doing radio and TV ads. You can get as much reach in those channels and a lot cheaper. But there’s a tendency for big businesses to splash the cash on big radio and TV spins, or paying for editorial TV attendances and stuff like that. There’s also a tendency for big businesses to have free install periods or long free periods, whereas lean businesses will often give short trials of the product or give samples away if they’re in the food industry. Lean business will be doing stuff that doesn’t cost them too much money, such as term discounts where they’re not sacrificing their upfront cash flow but they’re giving people good value over time.

Relationships

Minimising relationships is very important. It’s really hard for any one person to manage a lot of relationships inside a business. I personally look at 200 people. I have run 100 over time, but I feel like I can do more than that. I’ve got my family at about 25 people and 50 friends is gonna max Emma and myself out in terms of our personal relationships. After that, it’s really about our staff.

If you’re in a really big business, it’s hard to be across all staff, so this doesn’t work. You’re really going to have to be across your main managers and senior staff or across the people in your group or division. It doesn’t mean you ignore all the other employees, it’s just that you’re not in meetings all week.

I think of the people I need to be maintaining contact with, and I do give my time away, but it’s just being more selective about it. I’m not going to just say yes to everything because I know that I’ve got these 200 people I really need to focus on. It’s just the reality of life.

Minimalism in operations

Meetings

Minimising meetings is pretty similar. Jason Fried from Basecamp calls them toxic and I agree with that to a large extent. I say ‘mostly’ because I really enjoy catching up with people, just the human side of it. I still have meetings even though I agree a lot of them are toxic. You really don’t need to have five or six people in a room to come to an agreement on most things. You could do it online or you could even do it asynchronously – you don’t need to all be in the room and waste five times an hour’s worth of time. I do think it is good to catch up with people though and firm up relationships. Otherwise, what are we here on this planet for?

Data silo’s

Most businesses I see have a data silo explosion on their hands. Managing data consumes large amounts of time and adds complexity in logarithmic way as you add each extra storage method and database.

I think that data silo explosion is a real problem for a lot of people. These are all the devices I’ve kept my data on over the years. It’s just an amalgamation over a period of four or five years of cloud tech developing and different devices becoming available. Thankfully, I’ve started to narrow that down over the last few years.

Lots of data silos creates complexity in business. If you want to be minimalist, you’ve got to reduce the amount of data silos you maintain. I looked at all of my silos and asked myself what I needed to pare back to leave the essential. I quickly worked out that it was these five things:

Now I just have a couple of big hard drives which I use for backing up stuff offline – important company information, photos and things like that. I don’t want to run any of that on my laptop. I don’t want the risk of losing a laptop and having data on it. All of that stuff is out and backed up in a secure location. The main data source is kept in the cloud because we’ve got the full force of Google security working for us.

Customer contact silo’s

Managing contact lists consumes large amounts of time and adds complexity in logarithmic way as you add each extra storage method and database.


Before

A lot of businesses also run a lot of contact silos and they’ve got their contact databases in all kinds of places. You’ve got lists of people inside social media, you’ve got contacts in your iPad for chats or Skype calls. Then you have your phone, email systems, CRM systems, accounting system, spreadsheets and your laptop, all of which will have contact lists on them somewhere. You’ll probably also have a pile of cards you haven’t put into a database somewhere sitting on your desk. Now I reckon 99% of people reading this will relate to a whole pile of that stuff in their business. I think the critical thing is you just start knocking one of those off at a time and get it back to something that’s much simpler. At Saasu, we operate on these three:

After

We’ve pretty much got three systems that we need to keep our customer data in, which minimises the silo problem and having to have data shared across systems. Salesforce, Saasu and Campaign Monitor. Once you’ve narrowed down your systems, you can focus on getting more efficient at sharing data between them. We’re not there yet. You’d think we would be in our situation, but it is quite complex. You’ve got segmentation across contact lists and complexities that, even for a cloud business like us, is difficult to manage.

Procedures as filters

Lastly, we’ll look at the operations area. Having procedures is a fantastic way to create a minimalist approach to business because it acts like a filter. If it’s not in your procedures then someone shouldn’t be doing it. You’re cutting out all the noise and removing the maximalist stuff that just shouldn’t be there. Simple but really important.

Only procedures born from service design should exist. All else is speculative and unplanned.

We humans always want to add more. New procedures without critical thinking can be operationally expensive.

Systems selection

Stop being owned by systems and paying for too many systems. Leaving aside programming, 80% of what we do is covered in three systems

System Complexity Tips

  • More Data Silos
  • Higher Staff training cost
  • More Software Licences
  • Backup/Upgrade tasks increase
  • File search-ability/view-ability reduces
  • Reporting costs increase
  • Audit costs increase

Equally valuable is being really careful about selecting the systems you use. There’s a real tendency inside businesses for employees to explore and just use any old system they want. I like giving people the liberty to go off and try systems because that’s how a business going to find out what’s good out there, but there’s a balancing act. The more stuff that’s outside of your core systems, the more you start introducing risks around security. You also create risks around not having all your data in one place because it’s in disparate systems on different machines and so on.

We try to keep our systems lean because it keeps the business simple. We haven’t got 50 million systems to maintain and upgrade. We don’t have to worry about the data silo effect or training staff and all the costs that come with having too many systems.

Agility

Nimble, light, lean, agile allows change with less organisational impact and mitigate risk

MinimalistsMaximalists
No/little investor pressure
Good change management velocity
Agile product and service design
Quick cost base alterations
Better risk visibility, less risk surface
Clarity of a simpler mission
Cut mistakes fast
Quick start new ideas
Focused “best-of” sales & marketing initiatives – low acquisition cost
Pressure from investors & markets
Onerous change management
Scaling agility isn’t easy
Cost base changes slow and difficult
Greater risk via complexity & unknowns
Dispersed focus across many areas
Hard to stop mistakes quickly
Slow to start new ideas
Diverse “portfolio” of sales & marketing initiatives – high acquisition cost.

Having agility in operations is really about the minimalist approach. Minimalists have less investor pressure. They have easy ways to roll out change management so they can really move their business quickly. They can quickly alter their cost base. They have better risk visibility because they don’t have as much stuff to worry about. They’ve got clarity of their mission because it’s usually simple. They can cut out their mistakes quickly, start new ideas quickly and be more focused on the best strategies inside sales and marketing.

Maximalists don’t have those traits. They tend to have taken on lots of investors and lots of capital-raising. They’ve got onerous change management when they have to do it. They’re probably dealing with multiple acquisitions. It’s hard to scale agility so you can’t really design, develop and engage in R&Ds efficiently. It’s really slow to shift their cost base, and it can be painful doing that. They’ve got increased risk because of the increased surface area in the business. They’re dispersing their focus across many areas. It’s hard to stop their mistakes quickly – they do have some overrun when they’re trying to stop things aren’t working. It could be harder to start new ideas because they’re very entrenched and it’s a big ship that won’t turn quickly. They’ve usually got a very diverse portfolio sales and marketing initiatives, so there can be much higher acquisition cost because that won’t be as efficient as a lean portfolio that’s a really focused, ‘best of’ approach.

Minimalisms impact on customisation

Personalisation can be quite anti-minimalist

PersonalisedCollective
Software Custom integration
Personalised workspace
Personal software choices
Personality managed
Owning assets
Desktop + Laptop
Web Applications Cloud connection
Personality workspace
Service Design web app choices
Procedure managed
Sharing assets
Laptop + Screen

If people start customising stuff in a business, you’re quickly leaving the world of minimalism. For example, say I decide to build a custom CRM for my business. While it might seem good, because you think you’re going to solve really specific problems for your business, you’re actually creating a future legacy problem where you’ve got to update that as time goes by, as operating systems change, and so on. Customisation itself creates this extra workload over time. It’s not actually a minimalist approach, it’s actually the opposite. Doing things like buying software as opposed to using web applications is very much like that. This is because the software is tied to a machine, whereas a web application can be shared in many situations or have multiple users.

Another point there is having a personalised workspace versus having personality in your workspace. If you have someone tied to a desk and they’ve got a whole lot of personalisation on that desk, a whole lot of personal stuff, they’re really stuck there. You can only use that desk for one person. When you give people the ability to have personality in their workspace, such as trinkets, photos and things that they can move quite easily, it might take them 20 minutes to move desk. That’s way more agile. You’re not getting caught up in this sort of personalised, custom approach but still keeping personality.

There are a few others I’ve listed there, but I think a classic one is owning assets versus sharing assets. Sometimes it’s crazy for everyone to have one of something, like a sticky tape dispenser. Why do that in small business? Share stuff! It’s much smarter. It’s minimalistic because there’s not as much stuff floating around. Another example might be having something like a desktop in the office and a laptop. Why do that? It’s much smarter to just have a laptop and a monitor. You use a lot less power, you effectively have the mobility of the laptop but still have the equivalent of a desktop in the office. Don’t customise too much. Act more in a collective way in how you do things if you want to be a minimalist, cut out the redundant stuff.

Minimalist work hacks

Below is a list of things I want to share with you in terms of some minimalist moves that I have made. This is the basic end of working, it’s not the complex end. One of the oldest things I cut out was that I used to have a work phone and a personal phone. I now just have a work phone which I use for personal use as well. It’s a classic one I see a lot of people do.

OldNew
Work + personal phoneWork phone only
Make lunchBuy lunch
Backpack packing Laptop and gearLaptop with case
Notepad and penMacOS Notepad App
Dedicated work deskWork from home, cafe or office
Internet on dongleInternet on smartphone
Statements from spreadsheetsAutomated Statements sent from Saasu
Scan docsReceive docs electronically (mostly)
Public Transport and read phoneDrive and listen to podcasts
Data on Cloud, Hard drives, Laptop Drive, USB’s and SD’sData on Cloud + Backup drive

I don’t want to have a big backpack full of stuff to take the office. I literally just jump in my car with my laptop and my phone now it’s really clean, simple and quick to get out of home. I even used to make my lunch but now I don’t. I always buy my lunch. I just don’t want to waste that time, that 15 – 20 minutes to do that. All these little things add up. Ten minutes here, five minutes there. Before you know it, you’ve saved 100 hours a year.

It’s really crazy to try and load yourself up with positions and habits that belong in an old paradigm. You see people that have 50+ spreadsheets running their business, I’ve got five now. Some, like pricing models and KPI data still have quite a few worksheets in them, but I’ve managed to narrow it down to five spreadsheets that I really need to use. It’s just a much better way to run. You’re not trying to hunt through hundreds of documents in a drive and crazy things like that.

The whole concept of scanning paper…let that go. If you’re having to scan paper, you’re doing it wrong. You need to look at how you can stop the paper coming in altogether. If you’re scanning receipts from the cafe downstairs for your business because people go and buy stuff there, set up an account with them and ask if they can send it to you electronically. They’ll do it if they’re getting hundreds of bucks off you. Find ways to force people to give you stuff electronically, it’s not 2005 anymore!

People often say, “don’t have a car, get public transport”. I used to think that was the minimalist approach, but now I don’t, because there’s actually a lot of complexity around public transport. There’s a lot of wasted time and you get sick easily. I find it’s actually the maximalist approach. I think driving your own car is the minimalist approach when you think about it. You’re just driving, you’re there much quicker, you can listen to a podcast, and your health is in order. I guess it depends on how you see it. I understand the environmental impacts of that decision but I also see such a terrible PT service in our area that the time cost is overwhelming – and that is not my fault or something I can control.

I mentioned earlier that I used to store data in quite a few spots. I had data in the cloud, on hard drives, in a small laptop drive, a USB and SD card (photo’s due to using DSLR’s) etc. That was pretty much how I managed my life in terms of data storage. I think most people probably can relate to that. I found it’s much smarter to not keep any data on your laptop, you can just have a really basic laptop, a cloud and an SD card. The SD card is great because you can share it between your camera and your laptop. It’s just really simple but even that is changing with my latest camera that is wifi enabled.

Minimalist thinking as a business philosophy

Many others have already walked the minimalist path:

  • Less is more. Jason Fried
  • By setting limitations, we must choose the essential. Leo Babauta
  • 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Vilfredo Pareto
  • There seems to be some perverse human characteristic that likes to make easy things difficult. Warren Buffett

The above are some people to look at if you want to get a bit further up the curve. They are all people that are setting (or set) the trend of minimalism in business. Vilfredo Pareto is obviously not around anymore, but you get the idea. Pareto’s Law (80/20 rule) is right smack in the middle of minimalism. If you want to take away just two great rules for being a minimalist take this one and Warren Buffets almost religious advice around learning to say no to lots of things – to cause focus.

Just start. By cutting out, discarding, cleaning, reducing, filtering you will feel it. The relief, the release, the savings (time and money) all lead to the reward. It feels great. It won’t take long and you will have converted to minimalism for life.

Story Photo by Dose Media

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