All posts by Nate Joy

About Nate Joy

Nate is the Co-founder and Owner along with his wife Terra. Nate joined the team full-time in Spring 2017 with 10+ years of Project Management/Business Analysis experience. He works with clients on process improvement and software implementation.

The Guide to Avoiding “Meeting Insanity”

When thinking about the most important things to consider in running a successful business, it’s typical to focus on big-picture considerations around the products/services offered, clients served, and profit earned. These things are all critical and should not be dismissed. But the boring stuff – how your business operates day in and day out – can sometimes be the defining factor that makes your business stand out amongst a crowded field!

Communication is one of those ‘boring’ things that is so fundamental to our experience as humans that we sometimes don’t think about how important it is! We are communicating all day long – with our clients, our co-workers, and of course, our dogs. But how well are we capturing this communication? And how well are we processing it in a way that is useful, versus allowing it literally to fall on deaf ears?

This is what communicating with our dog looks like…

The most formal type of communication is the dreaded ‘meeting’. Meetings can be (and often are) a big waste of time, either because no one properly documents them or moves any of the items forward that are discussed. This creates a cycle in which the same time next week you get in the same conference room with the same people and discuss the same thing. I’m calling this “Meeting Insanity”, because if this cycle isn’t the definition of insanity, I don’t know what is!

It’s time to put an end to this endless cycle. It’s time to put an end to sweaty, nervous glances in the conference room when the question “What did we decide in this meeting last week?” gets asked. It’s time to gain control of information in a way that makes you confident that you are getting the most of the time you are putting in when it comes to communication!

Below are some practical ideas to make sure that you get the most out of meetings – and all of your communication throughout your day!

Capture, Capture, Capture

Have you ever experienced a sinking feeling when you realize 45 minutes into a conversation that you forgot to press ‘Record’? If so, you understand how critical simply capturing communication can be.  You can’t really say “Sorry, can we start over and re-do the last 45 minutes of our conversation?”.

While this may seem ridiculously simplistic, when you are having any kind of important conversation the first thing you need to do is make sure you capture it. There are a few specifics with the capturing process that I do, as follows:

Point 1: Make sure there a plan in place to capture important notes for every meeting

It is difficult to both lead a meeting and take copious notes, so if it is a group meeting I always ensure there is a designated note-taker. If I am the designated notetaker in a critical meeting, I book some time to organize, consolidate, and send my notes immediately after the meeting (or as soon as possible).

If it is a video conference, a good option is to record the meeting in lieu of taking notes during the meeting. In meetings where a lot of critical details are shared, I spend some time listening to the conversation later to write down accurate notes. I find that I am much more engaged in the meeting itself when I don’t need to worry about capturing the notes until I listen to the recording later. (Note: ‘Recording’ is also great if there are stakeholders who have an interest in the meeting but are not able to attend.)

Point 2: If you capture one thing during your meeting, make sure it is ‘Action Items”

I take down somewhat ‘stream of consciousness’ notes during the call, but importantly I highlight action items as I go. This allows me to easily spot the action items afterwards.

Immediately after the meeting I spend some time organizing my notes, and I place the ‘Action Items’ – with clear task owners and due dates – on top. I make sure that these action items are crystal clear, leaving no doubt as to whether it is complete the next time the meeting occurs. I send it out immediately which allows others to dispute any part of what was agreed upon.

At the end of the day, capturing and distributing your notes in a consistent way ensures that others feel confident that you have things under control. And it serves the extra benefit of serving as a ‘source of truth’ when other stakeholders inevitably remember things differently.

Point 3: Have a great system to capture all of these action items and ensure things get done!

You can take the greatest notes in the world, but inevitably your notes will get lost in an avalanche of work that goes on in any project. It is critical to have a technology system that consolidates all of you and your team’s ‘to-do’s’ in a way that provides visibility for all. Depending on the complexity of your work, that could be anything from a shared Excel spreadsheet to a much more complicated system.

At Joy Accounting, we utilize a tracking system called Karbon. Karbon does the basics like allowing us to capture and assign action items. It also has many more advanced features which enables true visibility across the communication spectrum, such as the ability to turn an email you receive into a task and then assigning it to another team member.

The bottom line is this – taking control of communication is critical to avoid all types of communication insanity (including “Meeting Insanity”). If you can get control of this part of your business, everything will flow much more smoothly, everyone will understand what they are supposed to be doing, and amazing things will happen!!!

Opportunity in the Midst of a Crisis – Two Truths and a Lie

Have you ever wondered how many generations are alive today? According to this chart from CareerPlanner.com, there are no less than 10, which is remarkable considering that most media focus seems to be on Millennials and Baby Boomers.

Each generation has had at least one defining coming-of-age moment. I am a Xennial – a relatively new designation for those of us who were introduced to the Internet late in our childhood – meaning that we lived in and therefore comprehend both the digital and pre-digital (analog) world (some would say with moderate success…). I actually remember coming across rotary dial phones in my younger days!

Photo by Louis Hansel @shotsoflouis on Unsplash

The coming-of-age event of my cohort (Xennials) was, without a doubt, 9/11. I’m guessing for Millennials that moment was The Great Recession of 2008. And while the Covid-19 situation could be considered the coming-of-age event for Generation Z, in many ways it is redefining all of our lives – which means many of us older folks are getting a bonus jolt! Yay for that!!!

Between these life-altering moments, our individual lives go on without requiring much adjustment. Sure, we gain a few pounds and decide to cut back on the cinnamon rolls, but mostly things carry on as normal. This holds on a national scale as well; as conditions shift the stock market goes up and down, but very few things substantially alter our collective or individual lives in a dramatic fashion.

When I would go on a camping trip growing up, others always wanted to play ‘Two Truths and a Lie’, a game in which the teller makes three statements, and everyone else has to guess which one is the lie. Well…I was and still am terrible at that game. As a teller, I am incapable of telling a straight-faced lie. As a listener, I always guess incorrectly.

For example, here are three statements related to the discussion above – two truths and one lie:

Statement 1: There are periods of time (years, even) that are relatively calm.

Statement 2: Large events and disasters can occur unexpectedly at any point.

Statement 3: If you are prepared, you can always handle the next disaster without any problems!

It is simple to guess the lie, isn’t it? Covid-19 shows what a large lie that third statement is! This crisis demonstrates how powerless we all are in the face of an overwhelmingly crippling event. So what is a small business owner to do?

It is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day – questions like ‘How do I pay my bills?’ and ‘What if all of my customers leave?’ are important to think about and strategize for. But we would be remiss if we didn’t use this opportunity to dig a little deeper. The disruption caused by the crisis provides an opportunity to ask fundamental questions about your business, and it could pave the way for rebirth, rebranding, or simple changes that you have been putting off for too long!

Without further ado, here are ‘Two Truths and a Lie’ designed to help you step back and evaluate your business apart from the panicked feelings that times like this can often induce.

Truth #1: Your business is a representation of your creativity

At its core, what is your small business?

All small businesses started as an idea – a thought uniquely generated by you (the small business owner), a plan for business formation brought about by you, a set of actions to set the wheels in motion, and then day after endless day of keeping it all together.

Yes, the business became its own thing after a period of time – but don’t forget that your ingenuity and creativity caused it to spring to life. You are a problem solver, and you care so much about the solution that you were willing to put your well-being on the line to make it happen.

Your business, then, simply is that inherent creativity brought to life and given a name (hopefully not ‘Frankenstein’). So when your business is running into challenges or even failing because of a situation lie Covid-19, there is really no reason why you can’t go through that creative process again and either re-start or re-shape your business to changing circumstances.

hopefully not your small business…

Amidst a global pandemic, all of us small business owners (even those who continue to do well) should take some time and go through the creative process again. For example, many of us are embracing online offerings and reaching vast new audiences as a result! I’m thinking of our friends Paul and Kim Goldenberger from BasePoint Fitness, who are hosting some stellar online classes during this time. (Check them out if my ‘cinnamon roll’ comments resonated with you earlier…)

Although it has developed a life of its own, your small business is really just your creativity that has sprung to life – never forget that. This is a great time to evaluate whether your business is continuing to reflect your vision; if not, don’t be afraid to make some bold changes!

Truth #2: Your business is an extension of your values

How well are you living out your values through your small business?

The other day I decided to bike to the store to get some exercise, except that I got way too many groceries to actually carry back, so I ended up with a large bag slung over my right shoulder which would alternatively bang against my spokes and slip off my shoulder every few minutes. If I would have been aware enough to see the drivers passing me by, I’m sure I would have seen a few strange looks.

I’ve been known to carry a bit too much on my bike…

The point of the story is this – when things go poorly or we bite off more than we can chew, we can get a bit desperate. And then we make bad decisions that do not reflect our core values. This can show itself up in a number of ways in a small business, including: 1) Cutting corners that the customer might not notice, 2) Under-valuing or under-pricing your own products or services, 3) Disregarding your own health while you burn the candle at both ends, or 4) Having no ability to walk away from toxic business relationships.

Life was already stressful, and then a pandemic hit. All of a sudden we are all slinging extra bags over our shoulder trying to avoid a mailbox on one side and a motorcycle on the other. This is prime cutting-corners time, especially when it seems like others aren’t paying attention because they are dealing with their own issues.

But this is exactly the time that you should re-focus on your values, because at the end of the day, your business is an extension of your personal values. You will not be satisfied if these two things are out of whack. I would go as far to say that if you can’t figure out how to align them, you may want to re-evaluate whether your business is a good fit.

At Joy Accounting, we focus one five values – Honesty, Integrity, Creativity, Consistency, and Adventure. Our business would not thrive in the absence of any of these values. This is a great time to either review your values or set them for the first time, and then ensure that you are bringing them to the table every day.

Lie: Your dreams will never be achieved if your business is unsuccessful

Why did you start your small business?

I sincerely hope that every small business owner reading this will continue on better than ever after this crisis, but the reality is that many small businesses have already folded, and many more will in the coming months. Yes, many businesses are dying – but does that mean that the ideas and dreams behind them will die as well?

As I mentioned in the first truth, at its core all businesses start as an idea. As the idea is essentially replaced with a real entity – one that has payroll, employees, products/services, etc. – we become laser-focused on the ‘stuff’ of the business, and then we can’t imagine our lives without it. And then (as I mentioned in Truth #2) we can start cutting corners to try and make things right.

While there will be many unfortunate and irreversible outcomes of Covid-19, one thing that it can never do to the small business owner is take away your creativity, your spirit, and your passion.

For those of us who can, we would do well to remember the truths in this blog and lift our businesses to new heights on the other side of this. But don’t wait until later – now is the time to really dig deep and evaluate what changes you can make, so that you are prepared for the new world that awaits us!