Episode 169:

On this episode, we delve into the unconscious mind and the concept of “limiting beliefs.” It’s the idea If I say to you, “I’ll meet you there in five hours” what is the first question you’re going to ask me? Right, meet you where? Finding our way without knowing the destination is impossible. But too often, that’s how we run our agencies.

Both short and long-term planning often gets sidelined in the hubbub of running our agencies. We’re putting out fires. We’re solving client crises. We’re answering employees’ questions. All stuff that needs doing, but for a lot of agency owners, the urgent gets in the way of the important

On episode #169, we get right into it. What does it take to create plans that inspire compliance and action? What does it take to actually follow through? Is there such a thing as work-life balance? I’ll give that answer away for free: no, there is not. (But still listen in!)

That’s why I loved my conversation with Jennifer Dawn. She is a business coach for high-achieving entrepreneurs, and she’s developed some really strong tools for goal-setting and planning.

Jennifer spent years working in the corporate world before taking the plunge and pursuing her passion for mentoring entrepreneurs to grow profitable, healthy, and truly exceptional businesses.

Business plans don’t have to be the Mona Lisa. They don’t have to be epic works of prose. Jennifer and I agree – one page, two max, is a great length for a plan.

If you’re ready to really make time for the important; if you want a plan for work and life that really serves the life you want, this is a perfect episode to dive into. There are tons of practical tips and suggestions about how to get your plans out there on paper, review regularly, and actually, follow through so you get to the defined destination of your choosing.

 

 

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • How to get your business plan down to two pages or less
  • The importance of getting an outside perspective on your business plan
  • Why beginning with the end in mind has not gone out of style
  • How to make your business plan a living document
  • Breaking down your goals into tiny, manageable steps
  • Definition of the “A” task
  • Actionable ways to manage your work/life blend this week
  • How to build personal and work components together into your planning
  • How to plan your business priorities so they are in support of your life goals
  • Three steps to achieve any goal you set

The Golden Nuggets:

“Get the feedback. It might be a little bit uncomfortable, but that’s where the gold is.” – Jennifer Dawn Click To Tweet “As entrepreneurs, we feel like we have to carry the weight of the world all by ourselves. And if we ask for help, it means that we're a failure. Wrong! You can’t go it alone. There are lots of ways to ask for help.” – Jennifer Dawn Click To Tweet

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Speaker 1:

Are you tired of feeling like a lonely light housekeeper as you run your agency, welcome to the Agency Management Institute community, where you’ll learn how to grow and scale your business, attract and retain the best talent, make more money and keep more of what you make. The Build a Better Agency Podcast is now in our third year of sharing insights on how small to mid-sized agencies survive and thrive in today’s market. Bringing his 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey, there everybody Drew McLellan here, from Agency Management Institute. Welcome to another episode of Build a Better Agency. I think one of the biggest challenges as an agency owner is finding the mix of time and energy and focus to both look down the road at what’s coming and also look down at the road to figure out what has to happen today. I think that that blend of planning for both the long term and the short term, often gets caught up in the hubbub of the day and often gets lost in the shuffle of putting out fires and solving client crises and answering employees questions. And that for a lot of agency owners, we know that we should be better planners. We know that it’s pretty difficult to get to a city if we don’t know what city we’re headed to. If I told you, I want you to get into a car and I wanted you to get to the place in 12 hours without telling you the place, the odds of you getting to the right place are pretty knelt on that.

You’re going to get somewhere in 12 hours, but it certainly isn’t going to be Cleveland, which was the city I intended you to get to. And so we know intuitively and we know in our own personal and professional life, how important having a plan is and how important having a game plan of accomplishing our bigger goals is. But I think it often gets buried or it gets complicated. We think that our plans have to be the Mona Lisa of plans and that until it’s perfect we can’t show it to anyone on our leadership team. And we certainly can’t show it to the agency at large, because what if we’re wrong? And so I think a lot of our own, I don’t know, insecurities or a lot of our own perfectionism gets in the way of us actually finalizing a plan and recognizing that it is a living document and it’s going to keep changing, but at least we’re headed in the right direction.

We have some definition of where we’re trying to go and why we’re trying to get there and what the method of transportation is going to be for us getting from here to wherever we want to go. I think a lot of times we just get in our own way, and oftentimes we let the things that feel urgent, maybe they’re not so important, but they feel awfully urgent because something’s on fire also derail efforts to plan. And so that’s the topic of today’s podcast. I’m really hoping that at the end of the hour we’ve inspired you to think differently about planning and actually moving forward with a plan. It seems this time of year is a great time to be discussing planning for sure. My guest is Jennifer Dawn, and Jennifer comes at this work from years of experience. She’s been an entrepreneur for a lot of time. She has been the president of companies, she’s led organizations.

And now what she’s doing, is she is using her talents as an entrepreneurial business coach. And also interestingly, her years of leading others and leading ourself has led her to creating a planner which we’re going to talk a little bit about, because I’m fascinated by it, to help business people plan their whole life better, not just their professional life, but the holistic look at their life, including their business. I think we’re going to get into all kinds of topics around this notion of planning and what makes a good plan and how do we actually get the plan done and how do we take the first bite of the elephant if you will. Let’s just jump right in and have the conversation. All right, let’s get to the conversation. Jennifer, welcome to the podcast.

Jennifer Dawn:

Hi Drew, thank you so much for having me here today.

Drew McLellan:

You bet. With your area of expertise, one of the things that I think many agency owners would tell you if they could call in and join our conversation, is that they would love to plan, but the reality is they’re so busy chasing their tail because their work is reactionary to what clients want, but they really struggle with planning. One of the things that I often talk about is that I think that’s because a lot of business owners and my agency owners in particular think that their business plan has to be the Mona Lisa of business plans, right? It’s got to be perfect and people have to stand in line for hours just to gaze at it for a few minutes. I know you have a different philosophy around business planning. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Jennifer Dawn:

Yeah, absolutely. I really want to validate exactly what you’re saying, where you’re right, so many business owners, I used to be one of them, are in a constant reactionary state. Of course they are in love with the idea of having the time to do the planning properly, but they never seem to have it. And it’s because they’re in that reactionary state all the time around clients, I used to be that way myself. But as far as a business plan goes, you’re right again, in that people seem to think it needs to be either this really lengthy novel, it’s got to be this perfect, perfect thing. And what they end up with, is either a giant paperweight that nobody looks at, because it’s not functional, it’s too huge, it’s too lengthy, it’s too complicated. Or they get so overwhelmed the process that they just simply give up and revert back to that we’re just going to fly by the seat of our pants business plan.

Drew McLellan:

What should it look like? If it doesn’t have to be the Mona Lisa, it doesn’t have to be the novel. What are the elements of a business plan that someone actually will use as a tool throughout the year and it’s not, as you said, a paperweight?

Jennifer Dawn:

Absolutely. When I work with business owners on creating a plan for their business, we like to get it to one to two pages and that’s it. If it’s more than two pages, we haven’t done the job quite right, because we really want to drill down to the essence. It’s funny, my husband’s a writer and he just had a story he had to submit. The thing was like 5,000 words and he wanted to submit it in a competition and we had to get it down to 2,500 words. 11 o’clock at night, we’re going crazy drilling this thing down, but we got it to 22,493 words, and it was phenomenal because we trimmed it down to the essence, every important piece of information you needed was in there. That’s the exact same process that I suggest that you go through on your business plan. Because if it’s one to two pages, you can absolutely follow it. It will be understandable. It would be down to the absolute necessities, the essence of what it should be.

In that plan, I like to combine elements of, of course the vision, of what this company is, who we want to attract, who we want to work with. Those kinds of who was our ideal client, the vision of the company, where we want to take this. I like to build in of course measurable goals and then some strategy in there as well. The strategy, I think is the piece that a lot of people just miss. They’ll be like, hey, this is where we want to go. And off they go and they just get busy and they don’t really take that time to do that strategy work. I like to see those three elements in the plan really lined out, but in a super one to two page, super compact format.

Drew McLellan:

It’s interesting your story about your husband’s story. I’m a writer by trade, that was how I started my career. It was always easier when somebody said, well, just write, I don’t care how long it is. And when you had to trim it down, for years I wrote a column and it had to be 300 words or less, but it had to be valuable and meaty, because it was going to be in the newspaper, the business newspaper. It was like, every word had to matter. And so I would end up writing what I needed to say and then figuring out how to call it down to its essence. I think the thought process of really deciding what mattered and what was, I liked that turn of phrase, or I liked that thing, but it really wasn’t the essence of what I was trying to say. That forced me to really think about what I was trying to teach.

I think you’re right, that in a business plan, oftentimes that’s the part that we miss, is if I have to boil it down to a pager or two, now every word I put on that paper I have to weigh it against a different word. And so where every strategy or every tactics. So now I really am doing the thinking that actually turns it from being a dust collector to a tool.

Jennifer Dawn:

Exactly. The thing is, if you start out, at least what I’ve found, is if you start out trying to just get it to the essence, you almost end up with too little and it’s like, this still sucks. Right? And so it’s much better to actually, I just say, put it all out there. Just get it all on the paper, and even with the writing, just get it all on the paper and then let’s drill down and let’s carve the essence out of there, and that’s where you really get the gold, if you can just get everything brain dumped. We might start with 10 pages of stuff, but we’re going to drill it down to that one or two and you’re right. And that’s where the real strategic, that heavy thinking piece that so many entrepreneurs just blow past, that’s where it happens, is right in that space.

Drew McLellan:

Well, I think that’s where the prioritization happens too. Right? If I have to decide between these five tactics, because I really do have to boil this down, now I’m really having, as opposed to just banging down one tactic and going up, done. If I have to decide which two out of the five I’m going to use, now I have to go through the thought process either by myself or with my leadership team or whatever that is, to really force myself to make the argument for those two versus a different two.

Jennifer Dawn:

Exactly. And then the beauty of that is then once you really drill down to these are the two that we really want to focus on, now you’re putting all your time, your energy, your effort into those two things, and you’re going to do it so much better than trying to go in 45 directions all at once. Now, you’re putting all that time and effort and it’s laser focused.

Drew McLellan:

What about, if I’ve done that in a vacuum, if I the agency owner have sat down and I’ve written my plan, at what point in time does it make sense to bring in some outside perspective and what is the right outside perspective? Is that my leadership team? Is that somebody completely from the outside? What do you think about having other eyes on the document at some point in time?

Jennifer Dawn:

Yeah, absolutely. And as far as which eyeballs to get on it? My answer is yes and yes. You should get the leadership team eyeballs on it and you should absolutely get an outside perspective on it, because when you’re in it, it’s hard to see other things. And even your leadership team, they’re going to have their own unique perspective, but they’re also still in it. That’s why it’s so important to get that outside perspective. I think that you should bring somebody in at the very, very beginning, simply because you can’t, it’s too easy to spin your wheels and spin your wheels and spin your wheels. And so depending on where you’re at in business, obviously there’s no, hey, let’s try it for six months and then bring somebody in.

No, it’s right at the beginning, if you’re going to sit down and you’re going to drop the plan, getting an outside perspective on that, I think is super, super critical, because they’re going to see things that you don’t. If it’s somebody even that’s, it’s a mentor and it could be any number of people. It could be a mastermind group that you’re a part of with other entrepreneurs that are at a similar or higher level of business than you are. It could be a coach. It could be a mentor. It could be, even if you have a friend, as long as they’re not just a friend, they’ve got to be somebody who has proven themselves in business, they’re at least a level you are or higher, that has some business knowledge and acumen, that can really look at it, because they’re going to give you ideas that you didn’t think of. They’re going to offer solutions that you didn’t think of. They’re going to be able to provide you solutions that maybe their industry has solved that yours hasn’t, that’s going to super short your curve.

Drew McLellan:

Right. For those of you that are listening, that are inside the AMI family, and you belong to one of our peer groups or something like that, that’s a great way to buddy up with somebody inside your peer group and other agency owner and ask them to take a look and swap services of perspective. I think it’s the age old acronym of, it’s difficult to describe the outside of the bottle when you’re inside the bottle. And so it is good to have somebody else’s outside perspective, looking at your ideas and just asking questions, if nothing else, about your thought process and where you want to go. But I think one of the other keys to this, we haven’t talked about it quite yet is, the Stephen Covey finish with the end in mind, or start with the end in mind. Where in the process of planning do you think I have to define where I’m headed?

Jennifer Dawn:

I think you have to do it at the very beginning. Now, it doesn’t mean that you’re going to have all the answers at the very beginning, because sometimes as you’re moving through the process of growing a business, information is coming to you, things are changing. The industry is changing. Competition is changing. All these moving parts are happening. You can never expect to have all the answers right at the beginning. But I do think that you have to make an effort to think about the future, to think about where you’re heading. And I think that you have to build that into a regular routine. We review this annually, we review this quarterly, some a regular routine where you’re always constantly updating. I get people who I work with and they think that they’ve got to have this perfect vision statement created of their business. And that once they’ve got it done, it’s never going to change.

Of course it’s going to change, everything changes. And so-

Drew McLellan:

By Tuesday.

Jennifer Dawn:

Yeah, by Tuesday. You have to be willing to change with it, but if you’re never looking at it at all, again, you’re right back into reactive, running by the seat of your pants mode. But one other thing I just want to add really quickly to getting the outside perspective, is that if you want to get the benefit of the outside perspective, you’ve got to have an open mind. If somebody is asking you questions and you go into defensive mode of, this is the way we’re going to do it and there’s no better way. You are going to completely miss the entire opportunity of the value of that outside perspective. If you really want to get, if it’s in a peer group or whatever, you’ve got to come to it with an open mind and be willing to hear what people are asking, what they’re challenging, so that you can really look at it objectively, and it’s from that place, that’s where the information is going to come from.

Drew McLellan:

This crazy notion you’re talking about is when you ask for someone’s opinion, you have to be open to hearing it.

Jennifer Dawn:

Yeah, crazy. Right?

Drew McLellan:

We all laugh at it until it’s us who’s not open-minded about it. Right? We all go, of course, you have to be open-minded, but it’s tough when somebody is talking about your baby.

Jennifer Dawn:

It’s true. It’s so true. One of my mantras is feedback is my friend. And it is, because feedback truly is your friend. It’s interesting, I have a separate company and I have a daily planner and it’s out there, it’s out there to the world. This is my baptism by fire, even with my earlier companies, I would get feedback from my customers, but I knew them. With a separate retail product, where the world, they could all say whatever the heck they want to say. And this is where I really had to put my money where my mouth is, because you’ll get feedback from these crazy people and they’ll just be saying mean things. And you’re just like, oh my gosh. But every time I’ve ever gotten negative feedback, almost every time, I would say almost every time, if not every time, I’ve been able to pull something from it.

And so if you have a really hard time with it, I just want to say, it’s your mindset, it’s your mindset shift. I wasn’t born with some special ability to be able to assimilate feedback. It’s just, I’ve decided that I’m going to pull something positive out of even the most negative feedback, and I’m going to use it to my advantage and I’m going to use it to get better and to get stronger. And the people who are out there criticizing the negative ones, kill them with kindness. But if you can get into this mindset that feedback is really your friend and it gives you something to think about, that’s where you’re going to get so much more from it.

Drew McLellan:

I think part of it is, you have to be able to look past how it’s delivered. Sometimes people are not tactful. Sometimes people are aggressive or maybe their questions are a little more pointed than you want them to be. I think you’re right. You have to be willing to sift past that to say, okay, what’s the carnal here, that actually is of value to me?

Jennifer Dawn:

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. If you have an agency and you get a lot of positive feedback because you have great service, fantastic. I get a ton of positive feedback and it’s such a blessing, but at the same time, sometimes I will find myself like, okay, tear it apart just a little bit. Give me something to work on. And it doesn’t matter how good you are, it’s so great to get all that great feedback, but it’s not bad to actually really seek out, how would you change this? How would you make it different? Pick it apart a little bit here people, give me some meat on the bone to work with.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. You know what? One of the services we provide is we do client satisfaction surveys for agencies. As a third party, we’re able to get their clients to say things that maybe they’re too nice to say to their face. The conversation I have with the agency owners is you have to go into this knowing we’re going to change things about your business and that’s for the good. And so what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to fair it out. Even if you’re a B plus every day, all day, how do we notch it up just a little more to be the A minus, and how do we look for places where even your satisfied customers and clients would like something a little different and maybe we can deliver it that way, but you have to be open and know that it’s not all going to be roses.

Jennifer Dawn:

Absolutely. Absolutely. And that’s the kind of feedback that you want. You want the stuff that maybe they wouldn’t say to your face. And so I love having a third party go in there because they’re going to tell you things that they wouldn’t say directly to the agency owner. If you’re listening to this right now, go for it, get the feedback. It may be a little uncomfortable, but that’s really where the gold is. That’s the stuff that will change the business and change it for the better.

Drew McLellan:

Out of the business plan, so now let’s say I’ve gotten my business plan, I’ve narrowed it down to a page or two. I’ve gotten some outside feedback, we’ve tweaked it. Now I have to figure out how to get all that stuff done, whatever that is. And so, for almost everybody listening, what they’re going to say is, and I can certainly relate to this since I have 30 hours worth of work to do today. I have to figure out which ones I’m actually going to do. I think sometimes the stuff that gets on a business plan, the bigger stuff, the meatier stuff, the bigger picture stuff, it’s so easy to lose sight of getting that done when your email’s pinging and the phone is ringing and there are people standing in your doorway with questions. How in the world do I actually get to act on the business plan? What do I have to do? What do I have to put in place?

I’m guessing that this marry’s the two sides of you both, the planner that you’ve put together and also the coaching that you do. How do I make sure that I’m actually spending my day on things that I’ve decided are so important, I’m going to put them on this business plan? These are the most critical elements of my business. How do I make sure I get them done?

Jennifer Dawn:

Yeah. That’s such a great question. Even in my own businesses, this is something that I’m faced with every day. And Drew I know you are face every day.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely.

Jennifer Dawn:

I did the work to create this plan and now how am I going to execute it when there’s just only so many hours in the day? The first thing that I would say is, one, you’ve got to make the decision that you want to execute it. That’s the very first thing, is you’ve got to decide, I am going to act upon this plan. I know that it’s going to require that I make some different choices. And so that’s I think the very first thing, is making that decision. Second, it’s great if you can build in some accountability, whether it’s with a group, a peer group, a coach of whatever, but if you can also build in some accountability, because you know we get busy and when nobody is like, hey, did you get that done? It’s really easy for us to just be like, nobody knows and so I’m not going to get it done. Right?

If you could build in some accountability there, that’s also going to be important. The third thing, and this is one of the most effective tools I’ve used with my clients, is to break it down into super, super small pieces. Because you might have this big goal that you’re trying to achieve, and it’s going to take 40 hours of time to get it all done. Well, that’s just too much. You don’t have a chunk of time that big, you can’t just take a week off and pound away at it. And so I like to break it down into super small things and even I’d break it down, break it down, break it down until we get to 10 minute tasks. A 10 minute task, even the busy of us, we can go, okay, I can find 10 minutes to do something that’s going to move the needle forward on that plan.

And my general guideline with my clients is try to knock out three of those 10 minute tasks a day. Even the busiest person can generally carve out 30 minutes. If not, you probably got a bigger problem. If you can’t find 30 minutes and if you’re not willing to carve out 30 minutes, you’re not going to do it. You’ve got to be willing to carve out, I would say at least 30 minutes a day, and it may not seem like a lot, but if you’ve already done all the work of planning it out, so when you now get to that part where it’s like, hey, three, 10 minute things each day, you’re going to be shocked at how quickly things will actually fall out in such a short period of time, and you’ll still be able to keep up and manage all the other duties that you have going on.

Drew McLellan:

I heard an expression once that said every agency owner creates the agency they deserve. And so I think a lot of it is about intentionality, right? I think you’re right. I think it is one thing to write it on a piece of paper, and it’s another thing to be committed to making it happen. If you’re truly committed to making it happen, you will find the 30 minutes a day or whatever it is you need to do to get it done. Right?

Jennifer Dawn:

Yeah, you absolutely will. I coach my clients on almost treating it like a dial. It’s like, look, some days you can dial it up and some days you can dial it down, but just don’t turn the dial off. Even if some certain busy days you may be able to just do one 10 minute thing to move it forward, great. At least you’ve done one thing. Some days you might be able to work on it for two hours. Fantastic. But it’s a like dial. Some days you dial it up, but just don’t dial it off or you’re going to stop that forward progress. But it all comes down to your commitment and making that decision that, hey, I’m going to do this, which is different than, I’ve decided to do it, but I don’t know how. That’s very different than just being like, whatever and not really committing to it.

Drew McLellan:

I know when I’ve been on a deadline to write a book, my commitment to myself is, I’m going to write every day, and my minimum, I have to write for at least 15 minutes. If I can only get 15 minutes in that day, then I give myself a passing grade. You’re right, some days I could have an hour or two hours, but a lot of days, all I had was 15 minutes, but it forced me to keep the machine moving forward and it was a commitment to myself of, I’m not going to let this fall through the cracks. And it starts with the decision, right?

Jennifer Dawn:

It absolutely does. It’s funny, me and my husband, we went on a motorcycle ride up to Nova Scotia a few months ago, and on our way back, we got caught in terrible rain, terrible traffic. We were supposed to be home at six o’clock in the evening, at 10 o’clock at night, we’re on the side of I-90, pitch-black storms, the sky busting open with lightning, semi’s flying past us. My husband’s hyperventilating on the side of the road, because it’s such a dangerous situation. He’s pulled over and he’s just like, what are we going to do? And it’s like, look, we don’t have a choice here. We’ve got to keep moving forward. He was worried about going slow. And I’m like, who cares? You go slow. I’d rather put on the blinkers and go 30 miles an hour. We’ve got 20 miles to go to the exit where there’s a hotel and we’ll survive the night.

I said to him, I’m like, look, it doesn’t matter, go 30 miles an hour, it’ll still get us there. It’ll take a little longer, but who cares? And that’s exactly your point. Even 15 minutes a day is getting you to the destination. It might be a little bit slower, but who cares? It’s a lot faster than sitting on the side of the road, getting run over.

Drew McLellan:

Sitting there for two days waiting for the rain to pass. Right?

Jennifer Dawn:

Exactly. It’s like, you just have to make that decision that, hey, even if we’re going slow, I’m still going forward.

Drew McLellan:

You talk about an A task, tell us what an A task is and how that helps us get to the destination?

Jennifer Dawn:

Drew, now you’re talking my passion. I love the A task. It’s my favorite thing. I know I’m a planning geek. It’s funny, a lot of people think they know what the A task is and they don’t. They think the A task is, it’s my client meeting. It’s my podcast interview. It’s my vendor appointment. Right? Those things are absolutely important. You need to show up, you need to be there. But the thing is, you’re going to do them anyway. If you’re a professional, you’re going to do them anyway. And so those things are actually B tasks. Your A task is that task which pushes you a little bit out of the comfort zone. It moves the goals forward that actually get you to the vision. It might even be something that you’re a little bit afraid to do.

It’s maybe something you’ve been procrastinating, but it’s usually something deep in your heart you know if you do this, it’s going to open doors. It’s going to really get you closer to that ideal business, that ideal life that you have, that you’ve outlined that you want.

Drew McLellan:

Give us an example of what an A task might look like.

Jennifer Dawn:

Sure, absolutely. An A task might look like, there is a client and I would love to have them as a client and I’m going to cold call them today. I’m just going to pick up the phone and I’m going to call them. And for some of us that would be really scary prospect. There’s some of us who, for them that’s not something they’re afraid to do at all. But for those of us who are like, oh my gosh, actually going and pitching my ideal client, going after them, that would scare the crap out of me. That would be an example of an A task. Going to a networking group that you know your clients are at, but you’re just like, I don’t want to go talk to strangers. I don’t want to put myself out there. Maybe accepting a speaking opportunity that, for me, I’ll get up and speak in front of anybody, I don’t really care.

But for some people it’s terrifying. And so for them to say, okay, you know what, I’m going to accept the speaking opportunity and then I’m going to prepare, and then I’m going to go and do it, and it’s going to put me out in front of the people I need to be in front of. That would be an A task.

Drew McLellan:

So should we have an A task every day, every week? How often should that be on our to-do list?

Jennifer Dawn:

I like to shoot for three a day, but I say that, you got to have some flexibility built in there. Some days it’s going to be easy, some days it’s not. And so some days the A task might just be, I’m going to reach out to, one of the things with my clients, I call them cash tasks, which are still A task, but it’s what’s something that you can do right now today that will generate cash in the business in 30 days or less. It might be reaching out to that old proposal. Right? You hadn’t heard from them. You’re scared to reach out because you haven’t reached out for them. It’s a five minute email, or it’s a five minute phone call and you can do that in a day. It just really depends where you’re at, what your challenges are, what your vision is. But I try to knock out three a day, every day, even if it’s literally just like, I sent the email, I tried to open this door. I did something.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. I want to take a quick break and then when we come back, I want to know what your A tasks were for today. I wanted to take just a quick second and remind you about one of the core offerings of Agency Management Institute, and that is our peer networks. We offer them both for agency owners, and also what we call key executives. If you’re a traction follower, these would be for your integrators. These are your right hand people who help you run the business day in and day out. From the owner’s perspective, imagine a Vistage group or an EO group, only everyone around the table owns an agency. And these folks become your board of advisors. They become trusted friends that you learn a lot about their business and they learn a lot about yours.

So not only do you learn from us the facilitators, but you’re constantly learning from your peer group as well. And the same thing happens in the key executive groups. We bring them together and we help them learn how to help you bring your vision to life as an agency owner. If you want to check out either of these peer groups, you can go over to the AMI website and look under the networks tab. And there you will find information on both our live and our virtual agency owner peer groups, and also our key executive group. Check it out, and if you’re interested, let us know. We’re happy to have a conversation. Okay. Let’s get back to the episode.

Okay. We are back with Jennifer Dawn. Before I hit the record button, I said to her, I’m not going to throw any big curve balls much.

Jennifer Dawn:

I know. I’m like, oh crap, what were A tasks today? I’m like, I know I had them. I know I had them.

Drew McLellan:

She gave me a great opportunity, and I am not one to pass up an opportunity. All right. So give us three examples. Your three examples from today, what were your A tasks?

Jennifer Dawn:

Yeah, so for me today, one of my tasks was actually, I had reached out to another coach. She’s a brilliant woman and her and I are talking about teaming up and doing a workshop. And so today my A task was to actually get on the phone with her and it actually just fell out today. It was like, I need to get her on the phone. And as it happened, I actually just talked to her before our interview, got her on the phone, we flushed out the workshop. It’s beautiful, the way that it’s all falling out. But all of that came from a phone call. Now, I’m going to go back into the past. My A task was, I made the decision to sponsor an event for my planner. I had never done that. I’d never been a sponsor for my planner.

What was it? Two months ago or whatever, my A task was, you know what, I’m going to sponsor this event. Then my A task was, I’m going to prepare for this event because I’ve not done a live event. Then of course I did the event. At the event, I’d met Sarah, who I’m now going to be partnered with. My A task then began after the event. I’m like, now I need to reach out to Sarah, which I did. We’ve been moving the conversation forward. And today was the day that I’m like, I got to get her on the phone. And we did. We hammered out dates and outlined action steps. And so now this workshop that we want to put on in January, it’s moving forward.

Drew McLellan:

For you, the definition of A task, part of it anyway is, this is new territory for me. It’s a little scary because I haven’t done this before or I’m taking a risk. So really we’re talking about having a couple of on your to-do list every day that feel risky or scary.

Jennifer Dawn:

Exactly. But they move the vision forward, because I had decided about six months ago when I was doing my mid year planning, that I wanted to add a workshop element to my business and I hadn’t been doing it. I have three children. I really just haven’t been in the mode where I wanted to travel, but now my youngest is nine and I’m like, you know what, I can get out there a little bit more, and I love being in front of people. I had decided that I wanted to add the workshop element. So yes, it’s a little bit risky, but it’s also in alignment with where you want to take your business. It’s not just like, I’m going to go bungee jumping today because it feels really risky. It’s got to be something that’s still in alignment with the direction you want to take your company.

Drew McLellan:

Is it often that A tasks are one of those 10 or 15 minute tasks that come off of the business plan?

Jennifer Dawn:

Wait, I don’t understand.

Drew McLellan:

You talked about chunking up, so I have a business plan and I’m going to chunk up those big goals into 10 minute tasks. And I want to get three of those done a day. Is it likely that sometimes my A task would be something, one of those tasks?

Jennifer Dawn:

Yes, absolutely. What I found is, it’s usually going to be a mix. It’s going to be a mix of, okay, if we really want to move the needle, we’re going to have to put ourselves out there and we’re going to have to try some new things. We’re going to have to do something different. And then there’s going to be the stuff that we already know how to do and we just have to get it done. It’s usually a mix of things. And so as we go through the business plan, we’ll usually prioritize and be like, okay, these are the A’s, these are the B’s. Remember B is important, but we’re going to do it anyway. These are the B’s, these are the things, the C stuff we’ll just do as we’re able. And that’s how we go through and create a plan to figure out what’s an A and what’s a B.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. You’ve mentioned the planner a couple of times, and as you know, there are a bazillion different planners out there for every season, profession, whatever. What do you think makes, based on what we’ve been talking about so far, what makes your planner different? How have you baked what you’ve learned in terms of running your business and coaching and all of that? How did that get baked into the product and what are some takeaways that we could steal from the planners design or methodology?

Jennifer Dawn:

Yeah, absolutely. It’s a funny story, earlier in my career, I was asked to lead a national network of women entrepreneurs, and I did their accountability and masterminding circles and that organization, they had a planner and I was supposed to use it because they eventually actually made me the president of their company. And so of course I am the president of the company and I’m supposed to use this planner and I absolutely hated it. And so after I stepped out on my own and started doing my own private coaching, I was looking at my desk one day and there’s just all this stuff everywhere. I’ve got vision, I’ve got goals, I’ve got inspiration, I’ve got all this sticky notes everywhere. It was just a mess. I was like, I need to make something that’s going to work better for me moving my business forward.

And so that’s where I started crafting the layout and the format and really working on something that was going to work for me in my business. I was using it. I was getting great results with it. I loved it. I said to my husband, oh my God, this is the best planner ever. And he’s like, really? I’m like, yeah, I’m going to call it that. He’s like, really? I’m like yeah.

Drew McLellan:

That’s a bold promise.

Jennifer Dawn:

I know, right? I think he was thinking the same thing. He’s like, really, you’re going to call it that?

Drew McLellan:

Who want to buy, this is a pretty good planner?

Jennifer Dawn:

Right. Who wants to buy mediocre planner? Right? Nobody. Then what I did was I actually started using it with my coaching clients. My business coaching clients, because I needed a tool, and you know this, you sit and you teach and it’s like, hey, here’s what we need to do, we’ve got this game plan. And then they get off the phone, and if they don’t have a tool to implement what we’ve talked about, they just get lost. That’s what I found was happening. And so I started using the planner with my coaching clients because now it was, all right, here’s how we’re going to do it. We’re going to map it out. Here’s the things, put it on this day, and it gave them a practical tool. And so from there is where I took it out to be its own company.

And so really, I would say the thing that makes it different is, one, it was designed by a business coach. I’m running a company and I am a mom and I’m a wife and I’ve got a life. And so I was struggling to balance all of those elements. I would say that’s one of the things that’s different about the planner, is that, it’s really a combination of your whole life and allowing the business to fit in it. Then the other thing that makes it different is that I’ve combined vision and goals and the daily planning and what we talked about with the A, and the B and the C tasks, I’ve really built that into the daily plan. It’s not a glorified to-do list. Many planners are just glorified to-do lists.

I used to think that’s what planning was. I made a big list and then I got stuff done and I crossed it off. And then it’s like, why are my goals not moving forward? Well, because I was spending all my time crossing off easy C tasks and not really getting that important anything done. And so I’d say that’s probably a lot of what makes it different, is I’ve brought all of these elements together. I’m really adamant, guys, don’t use this as a glorified to-do list, use this as a productivity tool to really move your goals in business and life forward.

Drew McLellan:

It’s interesting as you’re talking about it. I think one of the things a lot of agency owners struggle with, is that their work is so all-consuming, that sometimes the rest of their life suffers. So sleeping habits, exercise, family time, all of that. I don’t believe there is such a thing as life work balance anymore. I believe that today what we’re faced with is a life-work blend, and it’s up to us to decide what that blend looks like. It’s different every day, but you need to be able to step back and look at the bigger picture and go, okay, maybe this week the agency on me, heart and soul, but next week, or the family is going to get more of me or I’m going on a retreat, get my head and heart in alignment or whatever it is.

But I think that a lot of times when we plan, we plan in these silos and we don’t really think about how to run our life as an entity by itself. We think about my work life or my personal life, or my health as the separate things. I’m yet to see anybody who can successfully juggle those balls for too long.

Jennifer Dawn:

Yeah, absolutely. And this was one of the things that I struggled with, because earlier in my first business that I created, it was all consuming. Anybody, especially if you’re growing an agency, you have an agency, you probably have found this, that it can just be all consuming and it can feel like every moment of your day is just consumed. And then what starts to happen is your relationships start to suffer. Your family is now complaining because they never get to see you. Your health will start to deteriorate because you’re just working, working, working, nonstop. You’re not sleeping, you’re stressed. All of these things.

And so this is another reason why I’ve built the personal and the work components together, because you’re good for nobody if you don’t take care of yourself, if you’re sleep deprived, you’re super stressed, you’re unhealthy. You’re going to make crappy decisions, your team isn’t really going to working with you. You’re never going to take the time to plan, so you’re just always going to be in this reactive mode. But as I’ve gotten older, this is one of the things that’s like, you’re right. It’s very difficult to balance. I love your word of the blend, because they do have to blend together. There’s got to be a personal element and there has to be the agency element, but they’ve both got to exist in order for you to really create a life that feels good.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and in fact, to me, part of what, just close the loop on our whole conversations, to me part of what makes a good business plan is that it fits into a good life plan. And so I think, again, that lends itself to really drilling down to what matters the most inside your business plan, because it has to have some balance with everything else. I’ve seen a lot of agency owners sacrifice more than at the end of the day they wanted to, because there they were either so frenetic about not having planning and goals, or they were so unrealistic about their goals, that it was all consuming and they got lost in the process.

Jennifer Dawn:

Yup, absolutely. It’s not a good place to be when you’re lost in the process. I’ve worked with several clients. I’ve been there myself where you’re just so burned out and worn out and just, it feels like everything’s falling apart around you, because it just gets to be so big. When you’re in a situation like that, this is especially important to reach out and get some help. I don’t know what it is with us entrepreneurs, we feel like we have to carry the weight of the world all by ourselves. And if we ask for help, it’s like, it means that we’re a failure in some way, and it’s not the case at all. And this is where you do, you need to reach out to a peer group, to whoever and just say, help, help me get out of this, because it’s no way to live. It’s going to be just about impossible to grow a really successful, healthy, profitable agency from that place.

Drew McLellan:

I think it also, again, this is our whole conversation around planning. I think part of it is having, just like you have to have a clear picture of where you want your business to go, I think you have to have an equally clear picture about where you want your life to go. I have an agency owner that does this really cool thing, where they as a family have a planning retreat every year and they plan and he’s written a book about it, which I will include it in the show notes, but they plan what are the family goals and values and what do we want to accomplish as a family? And then he builds the business plan as a part of that planning, so that his business plan supports his life plan. I have often said, I don’t know why anybody would take the risk of owning a business if it doesn’t serve your life. Right?

The risks are too great. The work is too hard, it’s lonely, it’s scary. There’s a whole lot of yuck to owning a business. If you’re going to endure the yuck, you should get the good parts too. And that’s really about the life that it allows you to have, the work that it allows you to do, the team it allows you to build. And none of that happens by accident.

Jennifer Dawn:

No, it really doesn’t. One of my favorite quotes that you’ll see on my sites are, success doesn’t just happen, it’s planned and it really is. I love what you said about doing the family planning. It’s just brilliant. It’s so funny because I was teaching a workshop on Monday and in the workshop, one of the women at the end, I’m like, okay, so let’s talk through this, blah, blah. And she’s like, Jennifer, it was like the light bulb went off over her head and she’s like, wait, you mean all that stuff I learned in corporate around goal setting and project planning, I actually can apply that to my personal life too? It was like, it didn’t even cross her mind to take all of those strategies that she’d learned in corporate and apply it to her personal life.

I think sometimes it would just, it’s like, wait a second, the way that I can execute in my agency, I can actually execute at home in my family too. We can decide to go on a trip. We can decide to do these things and you can make it happen.

Drew McLellan:

Well, I think sometimes it’s like couples who plan date night and say, oh, well that takes all the spontaneity out of it. I think there’s a way to plan it, so that it doesn’t feel corporate or formal, but it still allows you to have the conversations around prioritizing. When you think about the elements are the same, right? We have to make choices. We have a budget, we have to prioritize what we want to get done. We have to decide what matters. How often are we going to meet? How often are we going to have dinner together? Whatever those things are. It sounds a little sterile and it sounds perhaps a little more formal than you would like to think that it needs to be. For a busy entrepreneur, having a plan, a big picture plan. This is what I want my legacy to be. This is what I want my life to be. This is what I want my family to look like. This is what I want my personal relationships to look like. And how does my business serve and support all of that?

To me is a much better plan than saying, I’m going to have seven different plans, that are not in alignment with one another. And I’m going to let them fight it out to decide which one wins. Because unfortunately often the one that wins is the business plan and the life plan pays the price.

Jennifer Dawn:

It really does. I agree completely. I agree completely. It does, the business will almost, almost always win, and then the personal life really, really suffers. It’s a sad thing, but you’re right, it needs to be one plan. I like to say, there’s life and your business fits in it, and you have all these elements that fit in it. But life is life. This is your life. It’s not like my whole life is the business. But yeah, I agree completely, life is life, but business will fit in it, but you do need that one plan. The other thing I would add to that is, don’t feel it has to be perfect right at the-

Drew McLellan:

Or you’re going to get it right all the time.

Jennifer Dawn:

Yeah, exactly. Allow some of these answers to unfold, get something started. This is my idea. This is where I think I’d like to be, but give it room to breathe and grow, and don’t feel like, if you don’t have all the answers, then you’re not going to even work on it at all, because it’s going to stop you in your tracks and the vision and the plan is really the direction. If you don’t have direction, you’re just going to be spinning your wheels. You really need to have that direction, but don’t expect it to be perfect, right from the first time you sit down. You’re not going to just draft out the perfect life plan and be like, this is it, it’s never changing.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and as you said early on, we don’t exist in a vacuum. There are outside elements, that are going to change the path. Whether it’s an employee who leaves or a family member who gets sick or a spouse who gets a promotion, all kinds of things are going to change the plan. But when you know what the long term goal is, then you can adjust the path along the way.

Jennifer Dawn:

Right. Exactly. Exactly.

Drew McLellan:

I could keep talking about this forever, but I want to make sure that we’re respectful of your time and that listeners have to get off the treadmill and get to work. I want to wrap up. But I want you to talk a little bit about, I know you have some training called, three steps to achieve every goal you set. Can you talk a little bit about that? And then obviously we’ll include links or ways for folks to find that in the show notes.

Jennifer Dawn:

Yeah, absolutely. The three steps to achieve every goal you set is actually a PDF download that they can opt in and download. I want to say it’s like two pages, maybe it’s three. It’s not too many pages. It’s pretty easily consumable. And so in there I’m giving three steps that any entrepreneur, any agency owner can take to help ensure their success with any goal that they set.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. We’re also going to include a link to your planner because it sounds intriguing and different. For those of you that your interest has been peaked by our conversation, we’ll make sure that we have a link so you can check that out as well. Jennifer, this has been awesome. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences and your expertise with us.

Jennifer Dawn:

Fantastic. Well, thank you for having me Drew. I’ve had so much fun. I’m like, we could talk about this stuff all night.

Drew McLellan:

You need to check the weather app before you get on your motorcycle. That’s just my last little bit of advise for you.

Jennifer Dawn:

I know, Right? It’s funny, the joke now is we talk about Nova Scotia and we’re like, Nova Scotia, never doing that again.

Drew McLellan:

To build a perfectly good city for you.

Jennifer Dawn:

Yeah. Yeah. Exactly.

Drew McLellan:

Thanks so much for your time. Appreciate it.

Jennifer Dawn:

You’re very, very welcome.

Drew McLellan:

All right guys, this wraps up another episode. There was a lot of tangible content here. This is not an episode for you just to listen to and go, oh yeah, that was interesting. Jennifer gave you a lot of actionable items and I challenge you to put some of them into play, because I am a firm believer that part of our role as a leader is to have the plan and how you carve out that plan and how you walk yourself and your team through executing that plan really does set the course for success or failure in the coming year or years. And so please take the time and the energy into implementing some of the things that you heard today. I would love to hear what it is that you took away from today and what you’re going to do with it.

You know how to track me down. I am always at [email protected] and we will be back next week with another episode with somebody else to get you to thinking a little differently about your business. In the meantime, have a great week and I’ll talk to you soon. Thanks for spending some time with us. Visit our website, to learn about our workshops, owner peer groups, and download our salary and benefits survey. Be sure you also sign up for our free podcast giveaways at agencymanagementinstitute.com/podcastgiveaway.