Is your business not growing at the rate that you thought it would? It’s time to level up and discover effective methodologies that could help you scale. In today’s episode, Penny Zenker is joined by Jim Barnish to discuss value creation and business growth. Jim is a strategic change leader with over 15 years of leadership experience in global and integrated operations, M&A, and strategic go-to-market planning. He provides business solutions for companies accelerating organic growth. In building a business and personal life, everything is about goals and challenges. But at the end of the day, Jim emphasized that it should be realistic. He shares his system that has evolved over the years.
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Effective Methodologies For Business Growth And Value Creation With Jim Barnish
We are here on this show to help you to work smarter, not harder. Unfortunately, we’re going to talk a little bit about founder burnout for entrepreneurs. Burnout for anyone is a hot topic now, with people feeling overwhelmed, stressed, a lot of pressure and uncontrollable circumstances around them. This is an important show to get a better handle on what you can do if you feel like you’re burning out and how to avoid that type of situation.
I have with me, Jim Barnish. He is a strategic change leader with many years of leadership experience in global and integrated operations, M&A, and strategic go-to marketing planning. He’s going to tell us a little bit more about himself because he said he’s been through this burnout as well. Jim, welcome to the show.
Thanks for having me. I’m happy to be here and burnout probably doesn’t even begin to describe it at the end of the day. I am happy to start, give a brief intro, and see where the conversation takes a spin.
Tell us your story. You started out before we started talking about how this all began when you were fifteen. Why don’t we start there? Go back to the age of fifteen.
It probably began even before that, but my memory probably doesn’t serve me right. From the start in my family business, which is where I experienced some of the most pain, starting at the age of fifteen until now. I’ve spent the last couple of decades working in a number of different roles, family business, entrepreneur, operator, even a brief stint as a venture capitalist. All throughout that, I had an incredible amount of hard work but mostly failure that I’m super proud of, which might sound crazy.
From family squabbles to sleepless nights, failed projects, acquisitions, you name it. There were a lot of different roles and different struggles. Where I became the most passionate was no matter the role that I had in or on the business, all of the growth stage technology companies that I worked alongside had the same struggles and obstacles that I was having. Whether it was in the family business or a different role or anything that have to do with building businesses.
“My situation is different,” don’t you hear that all the time? “No, that’s all well and good but my situation is different.” It’s not so different.Coaches just help us look at things differently. Click To Tweet
There are hundreds or thousands of permutations on the same problem set just like any data set, but you can boil it down to some pretty consistent obstacles or misalignment. Number one across the board is bringing in the wrong talent. Also, misaligned expectations around operational efficiencies and a number of things, whether you look at strategy, talent, product, revenue or operations. There’s this inflection point that businesses hit whether that’s at $5 million, $10 million or $50 million. Looking at that core problem set, it does connect to the stage of the business and area of emphasis. At the end of the day, the problems all boil down to one problem that’s spinning off multiple problems within the business. It’s finding that one pain point or one core problem.
There are lots of different symptoms but if you were to get to the root cause, then it would be what’s creating all those other problems.
If you can get to that root cause, that’ll help you get to the secondary root cause. Little by little, it’ll start to tackle the most important problems in the business because it’s very easy for us as business owners to get distracted from focusing on all of the problems that we have.
Before we get to some ways that you approach getting to a root cause, some of the stages of business and things like that, I want to go back and hear a little bit more about your story that you talked about. You’ve been through a burnout situation. I’d love it if you share that with the audience because we can learn a lot from other people’s experiences. We don’t have to experience it ourselves. If you could share that, then that could save a lot of people a lot of pain and grief. That would be worth people’s time to listen to it and you sharing that.
I appreciate that. There are two ways to learn. One is through stories and the other is through experiencing failure yourself and some success along the way. Over the last decade of my life, I focused so hard on figuring out the most efficient and effective way to build growth stage technology businesses that I’ve neglected some of the things that mean the most to me beyond that passion. I have a loving fiancée that is perhaps the most patient woman in the world. I had my own business, which I was neglecting to help build our client’s businesses in many cases.
Focusing on my fiancée first. Over the past several years, she has put up with more 3:00 AM nights than I care to count, probably more than she cares to count. We set a time away from travel and unexpected cancellations. In summary, it’s the life of dating an entrepreneur. We call it the hustle culture. On the short end side, I’ve learned to prioritize my personal time more than I ever have before because I finally realized that 50% of growing my business was growing myself. In doing that, not only was I able to help my business but I was able to focus more on myself and the things that mean the most to me as an individual like my fiancée, which is crazy to think about. I’ve got more energy and stamina.
It’s something that we all do. As you said in the beginning, you were so focused like a dog on a bone, “I got to get this.” We get narrowly focused on an aspect of growing our business or making sure that the client is satisfied or whatever it might be. There are many things that we ignore that we need, whether it’s our health, our personal relationships, and so on. Those things tend to get sacrificed for the entrepreneur.
It’s not just the entrepreneur. That might also be a lot of parents who can appreciate that. They put their kids first and put themselves on the back burner. It’s like one of those catch-22 type of things. That’s too old of a term that people might not be familiar with but it’s the opposite of what it should be. When you give those things prior attention, you’re going to be better in your business when you take care of things that are important to you. It costs us more if we don’t take care of those things that we need like our health or our relationships.
Just like you need a strategy to validate product-market fit or build predictable revenue or exit your business, you need a strategy to operate your own life effectively, no matter who you are, a business owner, an individual, a mother. Focusing on the entrepreneur’s side, we don’t ever talk about that mental tax of building companies, whether that’s burnout or Sunday anxiety or call it the Sunday scary if you will. We don’t even know to recognize it sometimes because startups and growth-stage businesses are supposed to be hard. As I started doing my own research on burnout, I found out that the World Health Organization reached a milestone a few years back officially classifying it as a syndrome. Meaning it’s an international classification of diseases.
You can diagnose these. Even before that, they called stress a worldwide epidemic, which was years before the pandemic. Now it’s gone from stress to burnout.
What’s so crazy is thinking about a comparable to founders. I love this comparison of founders to pro-athletes. We’re all trying to accomplish the impossible. The probability of success is incredibly low. It’s 95% for founders in most cases. Yet, we still want to do that because the rewards on the other end are so worth it. When you think about pro-athletes, not only do they play to win like founders do but they also train, recover and celebrate. I feel like training, recovering and celebrating are things that founders and entrepreneurs don’t do enough. It’s the hustle culture. That’s what it’s all about. We’re working 24/7 and we play to win. You meet people at an event and they only brag about the good things. They don’t talk about what they’re going through. You feel like, “That’s how is everyone.”
You’ve come to realize that and I’ve come to realize it. I was also at a point of burnout and sold my business because I thought I couldn’t do it anymore. I went to a 9 to 5 job that was even worse than running my own business. It follows you wherever you go but we can’t play to win if we’re not training, recovering and celebrating. Celebrating isn’t just celebrating what we succeeded in, it’s celebrating what we learned when we failed. You said you were proud of your failures. It’s because you learned a lot through those failures.
Hire An Executive Coach
Even though I’d become this expert on building businesses, I was losing my own because I was losing myself in the process. My system, which everyone’s is a little different, became pretty simple. It has evolved over the years. The foundational parts of our program at Orchid Black are number one, everyone needs an executive coach at some point in time. Oftentimes, for a very long length of time but they’ve got to recognize it. That is huge. My executive coach has been pivotal in my own development.It’s important to make sure that that progression in your business is happening regularly. Click To Tweet
Number two, just like your business needs a strategy, you need a personal strategy. It’s developing a 3 to 5-year strategy. Mine is a three-year strategy for my personal life to make sure I’m hitting the right things in my own life so that I can bring the most of myself to work every day, and not negatively affect my employees because I’m pushing them to not have this. It’s become this personal life strategy augmenting your business life strategy. To make sure I track towards that the same way you would in the business, I’ve got a couple of different intervals where I track, modify and celebrate little wins and things like that. I do that monthly, which is 30 to 45 minutes every Sunday.
This might sound crazy but I do a two-hour or maybe even a three-hour dinner or scotch by myself on the patio. Something that’s just me every month, where I can reflect on what went right because I missed that all too often like a lot of us do and what are my goals ahead. Building a business and your personal life is about goals, stretch goals and challenges. At the end of the day, it’s got to be realistic. They’ve got to be smart. It’s important to make sure that that progress is happening on a regular basis. That’s my system but everyone’s a little bit different.
The aspects are the same. If you look at the most successful people, they’ll tell you that they have a mentor, a coach or an outside advisor. As companies grow, they have an advisory board. There’s a reason why that’s important to get outside of yourself, to have them pull you out because we can get so caught up in the business, and maybe a little too narrowly focused. They help us to step back and ask us different questions. Having that personal strategy and being able to balance that, there’s the wheel of life that’s like a tool that some people use, and then tracking and measuring it for sure, and having that reflection time. Do you have any specific apps or tools that you use that you would recommend to people who are reading or do you do it on paper? That’s a tool as well.
I’m glad you asked that because I’ve got a few different things. Number one is my notebook. I have a notebook that is just for that, which might sound crazy. I do a lot on paper. I get that when I write things down personally like handwritten, I retain more. That’s just me. I retain more than if it’s on the computer. That’s important for me.
You could use a reMarkable Pad. You can still write it.
I’m a big technology guy. For some reason, it still didn’t work the same for me. I know a lot of people have been very successful using those reMarkable Pads. The other tool that I’ve used that helped me to get to that level of not only the personal strides I needed to make but also what landed me in the business path that I got on is a tool called Ikigai. It’s the Japanese meaning of true happiness. It’s a diagram where you take four different circles and you put what you love, what you’re great at, what you can get paid to do, and the impact that you can have on the world, and find the intersection between all four of those.
There’s this mission and this passion that can all come and boil up into having those four things congruent. That is a tool that I leveraged consistently. It’s not so much a technology tool but a tool to get to the places where we need to get to as individuals who are passionate, mission-driven, and want to make a difference. Everyone should love what they do, do what they do great, and have that impact on the world.
I was thinking as you were saying those different quadrants. A lot of times, what helps us in that reflection time are the questions that we can answer. Some people, if they had to go and journal with an empty notebook, would only sit there and it would stay empty. The questions that make us think about it and dive a little deeper are very powerful. When that came up and you were doing those circles, one of the first things I thought is, “What I love to do are the things that I can’t do.” Is there a question or some questions that you center around when you’re reflecting?
When I’m reflecting in my monthly or weekly sessions? Absolutely. They all still tie back to those three things that I was traditionally bad at, training, recovering and celebrating. The first one is the one I neglected the most, which is celebrating. I think about all the little wins that are important along the way that happened that week or that month. What little wins in your business, with the people in your business, or even at home that have happened throughout your week? Think about those and celebrate those because those are awesome. You should be proud of them, not just the big things like exiting your business.
I want to share with you a big breakthrough for me a number of years ago. I have a friend and we coach each other. We meet on a regular basis and be each other’s coaches. I also have another coach. Michael Jordan has a couple of coaches and it’s okay. One of the things that we started to do weekly with one another was to capture those wins as opposed to everybody can relate at the end of every day. People review what they didn’t get done and they beat themselves up, “I had a terrible day. I wasn’t productive.” What if you flip-flop that and you made the focus on what you did do today? What were the wins before you decide what you’re going to do tomorrow?
It changes the energy completely. That was a huge shift for me to start looking at the wins. As you said, little things are important. Just like with my relationships, my kids started back at school and I made them a little basket for back to school. They’re in tenth grade and I have a senior. I got a hug from my teenage son, which I don’t get very often. That’s a huge win because I put the little picture of him starting kindergarten right next to the picture of him in 2020 and being his last first day. Those little things can change our energy. I always say that it’s our energy. It’s how we show up for our time that’s going to dictate the quality of our productivity and what we get done. I wanted to highlight that too. It’s important to celebrate those wins.
I’m glad you mentioned Michael Jordan too. To your point, whether it’s Michael Jordan or most successful leaders have a coach, if not many. Something that I know Michael got from one of his initial real coaches, Phil Jackson, is that talent win games but teamwork and intelligence win championships. If you look at MJ from the ’80s, he had three scoring titles. Maybe 2 but 3 playoff losses, zero NBA championships, and the cycle was doomed to repeat but he was the best player out there. That’s how I used to feel. I needed to be the guy. I was the founder and the leader.Everyone experiences failure along the way. What matters is learning from your failures. Click To Tweet
I needed to be everything to this company and that meant so much. At the end of the day, once I learned to let go and put the right people in the right places and let them grow, it sparked a fire in my company and my family that I had been hoping and praying for. That’s what MJ experiences in the ’90s with six NBA championships. You can pick who do you want to be. Do you just want to be the scoring title or do you want to have six NBA championships? A lot of it comes down to getting the right coaching support. That’s one of the big lessons learned for me.
They help us look at things in a different way.
They hold us accountable sometimes because when you’re the leader of a company, sometimes there’s not always someone holding you accountable the way that you’re holding others accountable. That also is a big part of it.
Are there any other tools or apps? I love that one when you talked about finding that center of what you love, what you do, and the impact. What else?
I use a tool called Miro for almost everything. From strategic planning to personal planning, anything that helps me map things out. It’s leveraged initially as a product-market-fit tool to help people think about product placement and customer journeys, but it has evolved to be a lot of things to a lot of different people. For me, it’s everything. It’s personal planning, strategic planning and operational thinking. I’m such a visual learner as most people are and a visual teacher as well. It helps me to map out things in absence of the whiteboard, which is hard in many cases for companies now given what’s happened to our good old environment with COVID. It’s a great virtual planning tool. It’s blown up over the years as well.
I don’t know that one. I will be checking it out.
Combine Personal And Business Growth
The last thing I would say that’s been instrumental in me, remaining as competitive as possible but also tracking everything as I grow myself is combining personal and business growth. It’s led me to this intersection of these beast mode challenges as what I call them. Sometimes they’re a month long. Sometimes they’re a couple of months-long but it’s something that connects to both my business and myself in my development.
I know that not being the most healthy individual from a healthy diet perspective was leading to less stamina in my business and the way that I was feeling regularly. I went on a 45-day focused health initiative or my beast mode challenge. I love anything like that. A lot of us as founders were very competitive. Finding ways to be competitive with myself has been a big part of that as well.
That’s great and there are many platforms that can help you join a group. If you don’t want to be competitive with yourself and you need that outside nature, there are a lot of opportunities to do that through MyFitnessPal or a handful of other different types of apps where you can join in with others. I love that.
I was going to say my last challenge, as you’re bringing up apps, was reading more books. There was an app called Blinkist out there that does a pretty good job breaking things down. Maybe not as good as you’d like sometimes but overall, it does a great job at streamlining through a book. That was one thing but I can’t stress enough the most important out of all of those things was getting the coach. I was the guy for years who said, “I don’t need a coach. What am I going to do with a coach? I’m the coach. Why would I need to coach?”
Thank God for 2020 being a tough year and resulting in a lot of introspection for me. Even though the company was growing, I finally got the chance to slow down even more about how I was growing and how I was plateauing as a leader and getting to the next level. It took me recognizing that growth or lack of growth for myself from a leadership perspective to make that decision to pull the trigger and get a coach. I cannot even articulate how much of a difference it’s made in my leadership abilities and the way that I’m applying what I already know, but making sure that I have the stamina to be ready for anything that comes my way.
I wanted to go back to my notes from the beginning of our interview. I’d love to stay on and talk more but I know our audience has a limited attention span. I wanted to talk a little bit about some other strategies for working smarter and helping founders. I want to go back and talk about root cause analysis because that would be a great gift that you could also leave us. An approach that you might use to support people to how do they find that root cause. There’s a lot going on. This isn’t working. That’s not working. Do you have an approach that you tend to use when it comes to a root cause analysis so that they can get centered around, dig down and find what that root cause is?
We very much do. There are a couple of different things. Number one, for us as a business, when we work with our clients. We knew that there had to be a comprehensive yet simple enough way to do what you’re saying. Startups or growth state companies can’t afford a million dollars for an Army of McKinsey consultants to come in and tell them what’s wrong. You don’t have years or even months to figure it out. What we did is we dialed in on thousands of company data, companies that we had been a part of, companies that others we had known had been a part of.
We came up with the value creation assessment, which is what we leverage as a business. That’s our first step in the process to identify where all of the unlocked value in the business is, how much value is there in the business and how can Orchid Black help to maximize the value of the business prior to exit. That being said, that’s our program. That’s the complex or the premium if you will. If you go back down to the free version of what your audience might be able to do for themselves now, I would say one of the biggest things that I will constantly see is if a business isn’t growing, blame it on sales. Almost always and in every scenario, it is not sales that is the biggest obstacle to growth.
It sounds ironic, but it is true that it typically has something to do with either market positioning or general messaging or plain leveraging, connectivity and alignment between marketing and sales, where marketing is speaking a totally different language than sales is. This is probably both a different language and what the organization is pushing towards in many cases. Either it’s an alignment issue such as strategic alignment or market positioning, or it is a much deeper issue around something that leads to the sale prior to being salespeople getting involved.
Focus On Your Niche
Now that thing is not sales but that is one nugget for people to think about as they are looking at, “Why is my business not growing at the rate that I thought it would? How do I get unstuck?” The solution to that almost always is they have not typically nailed their niche or they’re not focusing on their niche. First off, what’s the mission and what’s the narrative around why you’re doing this in the first place? Who are you? Why does anyone care? Why are you the best person suited? Why are you the best business suited to do that? It’s understanding that and connecting that back towards your ideal client profile or your ICP.
It’s something that most businesses either are not doing or have at one point done but somehow it becomes unfocused around. If you’re looking at bringing that tactical and focusing on your niche first, there’s a lot of information out there. You can probably google your niche, but we’ve got a lot of great information that I’d be happy to share with somebody if they want to follow up with me as well. That’s probably the biggest nugget.
We’re going to give you the opportunity to share where people can reach you, so they could get more information on that or about you and what you do. I do want to talk about that niche thing because it’s interesting. A lot of people go, “We know our customers, the market and the competitors.” They put a majority of their time, energy and money into the sales process. They don’t spend as much time, money and energy as they could and should when it comes to getting that nailed and clear, and getting their message together. I would agree with you and a major issue that I constantly have to go back to is what differentiates you and how are you positioning yourself in the marketplace to do that because if people don’t, they’re not going to buy. It’s between these three window washers or whatever. If there’s nothing that sets them apart, then the only thing that they’re going to go with is who’s the cheapest.If a business isn't growing, blame it on sales. Click To Tweet
We ignore this concept of intellectual honesty oftentimes for the right reasons. It is because we want to help other people. We want to turn profitable. We want to help other people and our business, which includes our employees. It’s the right thing to step outside of our lane. It might be short-term revenue but it hurts us in the long run. It allows us to get unfocused very quickly. I’ve been to many companies. I can think of probably a dozen right off the top of my head. We’re spending over $1 million-plus a year on sales and marketing and nothing was converting.
Once we honestly look at the business and realized how we were not nailing our niche or positioned correctly in the marketplace or the evolution of where we should be positioned in the marketplace, we dialed in on five aspects of a great niche that everyone should be focused on. Number one, is it a popular recurring pain that you are focused on the need to have an aspirin rather than a vitamin? Number two is it a believable solution that’s stable and scalable that you’re offering that is a solution to that pain? Number three, are there enough identifiable targets out there that you are able to get to and/or attract and how do you find them? What channels do you get to reach them?
The numbers four and five are inexplicably linked. Your unique approach, your secret sauce, and the results that you’ve shown with previous folks that make you the expert. Why somebody should choose you versus somebody else? That’s what happens. That’s how you change the dynamic of getting unstuck for growth. If you are having some market positioning or some not nailing your niche issues. That’s the thing that’s important for a lot of founders to recognize. It’s business folks in general.
We got a lot of three segments of nuggets here. We got the approach of the apps and methods that you use to keep from burning out and stay focused. We’ve got how to get to the root cause and we’ve got some great positioning type of questions and areas to look at. Thank you so much for bringing that to the audience. I know that they’ve been taking notes. Maybe they’re going to go back and read this again. How can people reach you to find out more about your services or to ask for more information regarding any of these topics?
Orchid.black is my company’s website. It’s orchid like the flower because we focus on companies that are in the black or profitable. You can email me directly at JB@Orchid.black. I’d be happy to help you out there. If you have a one-off question and you want to connect on LinkedIn in the meantime, I take office hours every week. To people that are struggling with anything personal-wise or business-wise, take some time to see if I can help or if I know someone who can. Either one of those avenues works well for me.
Thank you so much.
Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.
Thanks, Jim. Thank you all for being here. I know that with every episode, we’re giving you a lot of nuggets. I want to remind you that you don’t need to take in all of this as the fire hose and feel like you have to do everything. Take one thing. What’s the one thing from this show that could make the biggest difference? You can forget the rest. You can come back to it. You can read this again, but what’s the one action or the one thing that you could take or do that could make a big difference for you? Whether it’s helping you to avoid burnout, find the root cause of an existing challenge that you have now, stepping back and maybe looking at your positioning in your market, and how that might improve your overall sales.
Go ahead and take that one thing and take action. Schedule some time in your calendar now to make it happen because the show is also about action. We give you actionable tips and we want you to put them into action. Make sure that you’re doing that. Give yourself some time at the end of the day or at the end of the week to put that into practice. We’ll see you in the next episode.
About Jim Barnish
I am a strategic change leader with over 15 years of leadership experience in global and integrated operations, M&A, and strategic go-to-market planning. Drawing on deep operational and investment experience at a startup and scale-up businesses, I have created and curated a collection of proven, data-driven processes and methodologies to help companies build scalable and fundable VC-ready solutions—accelerating organic growth.
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