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Best practices for running a lean business

When it comes to building and running a thriving business in the 21st century, you have to be fast and agile – and do what others are not willing to do – in order to stay ahead of the competition. You have to get out of the building and put your ideas into action.


To illustrate business efficiency, I like to draw analogies with the processes that go into writing content. Because of social and digital media we’re more of a writing culture today than at any point in history. Whether texting, tweeting, writing emails, or composing essays for assignments, what have you, we’re a society that writes often to make ourselves known and understood. You don’t see a teenager get writer’s block when texting, do you? They crank out hundreds of short texts and tweets a day. By extension, ever realize that the more you ponder over a writing assignment, the more frustrating it becomes? You can think of a thousand and one excuses to procrastinate and not face the inevitable chore. But ultimately, if you want the grade you have to start filling up the page. And once you push past writer’s block, you find that words and ideas start to flow more easily.


So what’s that got to do with running a business? Well, if you’re going to build a successful organization in today’s fast-paced market, you can’t waste time over-analyzing the peripherals or getting trapped in “the process”. In other words, if you have a great business idea that you’re sure can make millions (or better yet, can get sold to Google!) don’t focus on writing a big, elaborate business plan. Take your idea and run with it! Get out of the building and start putting your ideas into action. Your business plan will write itself as time goes on.

The point is this: don’t bog yourself down right out of the gate. Sure, you’ll want to capture a basic sense of the marketability of your business idea. But by the same token, over-analyzing the market can scare you off the path of success. Instead, you need to capitalize on that initial creative impulse, take quick action, and put your idea into practice as fast and cost effectively as possible. This is what a lean approach to business is all about!


The rules of business are changing so fast that what worked yesterday may be obsolete tomorrow. Fortunately, however, there are some core principles that we know today to be true. Let’s run through a number of suggestions you can adopt right now to ensure your business is lean, agile, responsive, and progressive – all necessary qualities to thrive in the fast-paced 21st century and beyond!

  1. Process vs. Product

Product vs. process. Different personality types lean towards different sides of the spectrum. Some folks get lost in “the process” while others are more pragmatic and focus on outcomes. Nothing against process folks, but the universe rewards those who deliver products. Revenue flows from products, not processes. At the same time, there is also a happy balance between product and process. You’ll need clearly defined processes to ensure your business and projects are running in a streamlined, efficient, organized, and professional manner.

  1. Tools & Resources

Let’s face it, technology has dramatically transformed the way we work. And in order to work most efficiently, you must be clued into the great selection of cheap or free online tools available today for the digital business. Kudos to zero2illo.com and their excellent article, 101 Guide to Running A Lean & Agile Business, for providing this overview:

Google Apps for a suite of tools such as email, calendar, online word processing/spreadsheets/presentations, and more.

Freshbooks, Xero or similar to manage your accounts and invoices.

AWeber of Mailchimp to manage your marketing database/contacts.

Trello or Asana for project management and group collaboration.

Evernote for clipping, storing and organising your resources and snippets of information (doesn’t have to be digital – snap photos to digitalise and upload online).

Flickr, Dropbox or Amazon S3 for incredibly affordable storage for your digital images.

  1. Be a DIYer and Control Assets

Part of being innovative is taking existing processes and transforming them into creative new possibilities. When it comes to running your business you don’t have to “reinvent the wheel” or “boil the ocean” as they say. Part of the idea of bootstrapping your business is to limit reliance on external finances so you retain more control and focus on customers instead of investors. Leverage your own skill sets and also your social networks. You can learn to revise your own website and save costs. Jump on Twitter and Facebook and learn the ropes of basic social marketing. Learning by doing will make your business more agile and cost efficient.

  1. Preserving Your Mindset

Becoming a successful business leader in today’s digital global economy requires, quite frankly, a different mindset than was required just 5 years ago. Technology is changing so rapidly and is, now more than ever, a key differentiator in all lines of the business cycle. Staying lean and agile and keeping eyes and ears open to the emerging and disruptive changes in the market place requires insight, open-mindedness, quick thinking, and decisiveness in order to pivot and make adjustments when necessary.


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About Jeffrey Walker

Jeff is a business development consultant who specializes in helping businesses grow through technology innovations and solutions. He holds multiple master’s degrees from institutions such as Andrews University and Columbia University, and leverages this background towards empowering people in today’s digital world. He currently works as a research specialist for a Fortune 100 firm in Boston. When not writing on the latest technology trends, Jeff runs a robotics startup called virtupresence.com, along with oversight and leadership of startuplabs.co - an emerging market assistance company that helps businesses grow through innovation.