278: How to Run a Lean Business

9 Minutes Read

Lean does not mean small. In fact, "small business" is one of our least favorite words, as it implies having less of an impact.

Lean, in our definition, means driven, strong, and purposeful. It's where you "punch above your weight" in terms of how the market perceives you relative to the size of your company. Your business makes a big difference with fewer resources and less waste than similar organizations.

Lean is a philosophy more than a set of instructions. And this episode will help you put that philosophy to work in growing your business.

You will discover:

  • How to create a sense of ownership and shared vision in your team so you can have a bigger impact
  • How to use lean principles to learn faster so you can create products that your customers love
  • The signs you'll see in your calendar and/or org chart that you might not be running lean, and the mindset shift that will help you get there


Lean Business Quickstart Guide - create your own process for running a lean business.

Ripple Results - podcast episode about making a difference in ways you may never know.

$10,000 learnings - how to turn "failures" into momentum for your business.

If you want 1:1 coaching support for your business, Erin and Steve currently have openings for new clients. Click here to line up a free, no-pressure consultation while they're still available.

Listen to it on Spotify here



Episode Transcript

Erin Aquin  0:00  
Welcome to the Superabound podcast with master coaches Steve Haase and Erin Aquin, where business owners like you learn tools to help you clarify vision, clear up static and overcome challenges. You are listening to Episode 278. What is a lean business? Hello and welcome. Let's dive in. So I have to say, the term small business has always kind of bugged me. I think that there's often not like a really clear and universally applied definition to what a small business is. A small business could be, you know, you working on a part time side business all alone making a few extra bucks. That's a small business. I have also heard CEOs of corporations who are making 10s of millions of dollars with, you know, 150 employees, consider themselves small business owners and talk about their small business. So we are going to share with you today a sort of a new reframe that we are using in our business. And with a lot of our clients. The idea of not being a small business small just kind of sounds like oh, I don't want to take up a lot of space, some teeny, tiny little business. But instead, a much more powerful idea that comes with a philosophy that I think will resonate with a lot of people who listen to this particular podcast. So welcome, Steve, tell us what is a lean business

Steve Haase  1:45  
that teeny tiny, it's not cute and cuddly. It's there to have an impact. You don't run your business to be diminutive, right, you run it because you have a dream in your heart, there is no other reason to spend the kind of energy and effort that you do, unless you want to do something important. And so the idea of a lean business starts with your vision, it begins with the fact that you are here for a purpose, and that you are intending to, I don't have a better metaphor yet. So I'll say punch above your weight, like you are going to have a big impact with a small team. One example that I love to share, because it was so surprising to me was when I joined HubSpot in 2012. It was it was not a small business, right? They were venture backed they were growing rapidly. But the impression that the marketplace had was that this was a big enterprise really had their act together, lots of people working there, and I joined the company. And none of those things were true, they did not have their act together. There were not a lot of people working there. But their presence outside their walls was huge. Their ability to do that our ability to do that came from being a lean business. Now let's talk about some of the principles there. First of all, there's the fact that they have a strong reason for being if you are a lean business, you have a strong vision, it means something to you, and everyone is there behind it. That's what enabled HubSpot to feel so big is because everyone was aimed at the same purpose. And that purpose was important to the marketplace at the time, it really resonated with people, it enabled a small group of people to have a large presence outside the walls of their company. So there is a sense of presence. Another important point this is as crucial, is a sense of ownership. Everyone on that team is connected to that vision. That is what allows them to actually bring their creativity, bring their heart and soul to their work and find meaning in the work that they do. That's what people want. And when you bring on team members that are connected to the vision, that's what you give them. And that's what allows them to fill gaps that you didn't even know needed to be filled, that allows them to be creative and really bring their best to their work. And that is how you don't have to have a manual and a procedure for every single activity that needs to be done. You can simply have great people on your side, point them in the right direction, and let their genius flow.

Erin Aquin  4:30  
I think it's interesting. I think about a lean business also as a wise use of your resources. Like lean businesses do not just hire people to increase their headcount. They don't just get to a random profit target and say, Okay, now we hire, they actually think about the culture. They actually think about how are we best using our resources, our time, our money, our talent, our Are the energy of the people who who work there. And it's not to say that you have to be a company like HubSpot in 2012, you might be a lean team of two or one, you can be a lean business, even if you're just starting out, even if it's more philosophical at this point, it's such a great way to run a business because, as you said, Steve, everybody's more vision aligned. Unlike some bigger corporations, where often things get so huge that departments are siloed, everybody is focused on the tasks and to dues of their job, and not the major results and outcomes that that the team wants to create. So whether you are a business owner, trying to create this idea of a lean business, or you are a leader, and you want to create a more lean business with your team, it's a it is a mindset, not a number. So I think maybe also the the other part of this is there are I think sometimes folks that hear this and they say, Ooh, are you saying I could like have less people and not spend as much money, I think there's a lot of ways in which some businesses don't grow it for the sake of quote, unquote, becoming more lean. But it's different. It's not about being stingy or saving money on things that actually do matter. It's about figuring out how to use your resources. Well, you know, something, we often say money is a sacred resource. Time is a sacred resource. If most of us were honest, these resources of time and money, we probably aren't really maximizing them. You know, there's probably things that are happening in your team right now, or in your business right now that you think are priorities, but are not actually, you're not actually getting a return on your investment. And I know, we've talked in the past about ripple results. So it's not as though I'm saying anything that you're doing in your business that isn't directly making you money right now, or anything anyone in your team is doing that isn't directly making you money. Now, you should pull the plug. That would be like a stingy business, not a lean business. In fact, one of my favorite things about you know, we have a lean company, is that we can run experiments without having to have a meeting with 45 people, we don't have to get anybody else on board. With what we want to do. When we decide what we are up to what we want to experiment with. We might let contractors we work with know the hire people who are there to help us make sure we both feel really good about what we're doing as co founders. But also it just like keeps you light on your feet, you're able to do interesting things without sinking months of time or or pounds of gold into into an idea. That could be a risk.

Steve Haase  8:20  
Yeah, and if you are someone who likes to read instructions, or have other inputs to help you make a change, we actually created a quickstart guide, and lean business quickstart guide that you can download for free at besuperabound.com/lean. And it will help you put some of these principles to work. Because it is a reframe, right. It's a different mindset. But it's also a different action set. There will be some cutting of activities, so that you can arrive at your real priorities. If you aren't clear, what is most important to your business and what is least important to your business, then everything is going to seem urgent. And maybe you haven't arrived at the point where you've kind of set your priorities in place. But if you feel like you never have enough time, chances are that you write that you actually need to spend some time saying what is most important? And what can go, what can be in someone else's hands in order to get that time back and have your biggest impact.

Erin Aquin  9:29  
Yeah, I'm so glad you mentioned impact because a more lean business allows you to also be closer to the end user of your product or your service. It allows you to be closer to your customers. You know, we've talked about toxic marketing recently. And I actually think that a big part of why we are seeing so many scammy spammy marketing efforts out there is because the business owner is is not having to feel the sting of seeing those customer service emails, they are not the ones sending out the scammy spammy DMS, they are like they've got a, an AI spam bot, or they've they've set their team out to do it. And they don't actually have to feel the feedback and the impact of these like, pretty on aligned marketing techniques. So I think something being a lean business allows you to do is know your people know your customers know, the people on your team, know your clients at a different level and make sure that you're when there is a problem, because there will be, you know, I'm not saying we don't make mistakes in our business, we certainly do. But when something happens in our business, that is a mistake. We know about it right away, we're we've been dealing with a pretty bad customer service issue with a company that we actually really loved. But their customer service has just been so appalling, and ineffective. It's because this company, and I mean, I'm making an assumption here, but I can see how the leaders of that company are no longer in touch with the end user. And these little customer service issues are piling up in such a way that it's turned us off of this company and might result in them losing us as customers as a result, even though we love their vision. We love what they're up to. But they don't have their their customer facing team working well. And I don't know if they know how bad it is. That's an issue. I think a lot of times companies as they grow, the the owner gets further and further and further away from the end user, and only finds out that there's a problem with customer service, or there's a problem with their front facing employee their forward facing employees, when it's too late, when they start losing lots of money and losing a lot of customers a lean business, you have a chance to win back that person, you have a chance to make it right we talked about $10,000 learnings, it's very hard with the CEO of a huge corporation, and a and a team that grew just because that's what HR wanted, it's hard for them to be in touch with what the customer is actually feeling. And if you don't care about your customers, you're not gonna have a business. And

Steve Haase  12:37  
now we're not saying you have to do everything on your own. That is not what a lean team is. Because that is kind of the other trap that business owners fall into, that has them wanting to start hiring and you know, hire bigger, faster is I'm involved in too many things, I can't handle all the details or my coach said I should have a team to help me with this. That is very important, too. You should not be doing everything. You should be focused on what has the biggest impact. But what we are talking about here is as a leader as the person who is responsible for the business for the team, knowing what is yours to do. What is your business's purpose in this world, right? What is that vision and from there, spending your time on the things that matter, building out the teams and the systems for the things that matter and not trying to do everything that everyone has ever told you that you should be doing. Or that you think you should be doing. overwork should not be your badge of honor. That's not what a lean business is about. It's about having the impact that you want within the life that you want to create. Those are kind of the the two parameters that will keep you building a beautiful business, something that you can be proud of. And that really brings you the wealth and success that you want, not just financial. So once again, to access our quickstart guide on building a lean team, head over to besuperabound.com/lean and get started building your lean team today. Thank you for being here, and we'll see you again next time.