Process Optimization and Automation with Adam Lowe

Today I’m going to do things a little different. Rather than bringing on a guest, I’m going to talk a little about what we do here at Adam Lowe Creative, then I’m going to nerd out on one of my favorite topics – process optimization and automation! If you are falling asleep already, grab a cup of coffee. I promise you are going to want to hear some of this, especially if you are finding yourself working more than necessary, letting little things fall through the cracks, or if you want to make sure your customers have a consistently great experience with you and your company.

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Process optimization, business automation, marketing automation, sales automation, web design

Hello and welcome to the Business Insight Lab, where we bring you interviews with leaders in their fields to deliver valuable information to your business. I’m your host, Adam Lowe, and this is episode number 11. Today’s special guest is me! I want to talk a little bit about what we do here at Adam Lower Creative, and I’m going to nerd out on one of my favorite topics, process automation and optimization. If you’re falling asleep already, grab a cup of coffee because I promise, you’re going to want to hear some of this, especially if you’re finding yourself working more than necessary, letting little things fall through the cracks, or if you want to make sure that your customers have a consistently great experience with you and your company.

All right. Here we go, interviewing myself. This is a lot more awkward than I expected, but we’ll get through it.

All right. A little bit about me and my background. I’m going to take you all the way back to the ’90s. Out of high school, I went to animation school of all things. This is back when digital animation was brand new, before ‘Toy Story’ or anything like that had come out, and doing computer animation was this really cool, novel thing, so that’s really what I wanted to do. I was a huge, huge nerd. I loved art. I loved technology. I loved sciences, and that’s just what I wanted to do.

It never ended up happening. Instead, I wound up getting a business degree in Management Information Systems, which frankly is a lot more practical and it’s been a lot more useful than an animation degree, so I’m kind of glad that things went that way. One of the things that I found very early in my career, and this is again back in the late ’90s, is that I was very good with technology, and it was the perfect time because this is when technology was at its heyday. We had Y2K right around the corner, the technology bubble hadn’t even really begun yet, so this was all brand new stuff that I was getting in on the ground floor. As a matter of fact, I remember it was 1996 when I designed my first website for a company that made household cleaning products. It was also that same year that I designed my first interactive training CD. I think it was using Macromedia Shockwave or something like that. I don’t remember exactly what it was, but at the time, this was really cool, novel stuff. Even just designing a logo on the computer or doing some page layout work was really new and novel, and then I just loved it, but alas, I had to find a big boy job, and so I ended up working for a technology company.

I spent two years with my first technology company where I worked in basically, I swept floors and did what I needed to do, put in my time there, learned a ton of stuff, so thanks to them. They were an awesome company. They actually still are a great company in Maryland. The company’s name is System Source. They do a fantastic job, so I would highly recommend them to anybody that’s looking for a vendor or a technology company in, particularly the financial space. I left there to move down to D.C., and I went to work for a small consulting company, because what I found was that I’ve really liked working with the business itself, as opposed to just the technology.

I like taking technology solutions and making them work for business problems, as opposed to simply coming in and having somebody above me already design the solution, and it’s just my job to come in and make it happen. I worked for the small consulting firm that unfortunately isn’t around anymore, and we primarily dealt with the legal space, property management space, and a little bit of finance, and we did lots of really cool things there. We spent a lot of time going into the business and understanding how they worked and what their needs were, understanding where their pain points were and figuring out how technology could make their lives and their businesses work better. We did all sorts of things from implementing server systems, and communication systems. We designed intranets and extranets. We built websites, and then generally, we just found ways to make businesses more efficient and effective by using technology, so some really, really cool stuff.

Now again, this is back in the early to mid-2000’s, so again, this technology was still new, still developing. The dot-com bubble had sort of just burst. We were entering the web 2.0 phase right around there and doing things like intranets and extranets and dynamic websites, where they’re driven by databases and driven by interaction as opposed to things just being a static brochure that happens to be online. This was all pretty new, so it was really, really cool stuff, and we used some really interesting esoteric technologies back then. Thank God, things have gotten much, much easier since then, but it was a really cool time of learning new things, and innovation, and just constantly being right there on ahead of the curve so that we could serve our customers.

Once I left that firm, I went in-house to a very large law firm. Basically, my job there was to work as an internal consultant. I remember when I went for the interview for the job, the person who was going to be my boss, he joked with me and he said that my job was to stare out the window and think big thoughts. In some ways, he was actually pretty correct. My role there really was to work with various departments in the company to help them plan their big initiatives and make sure that those initiatives were aligned with the firm’s goals and what the different administrative departments were doing weren’t conflicting with each other, and to make sure that the IT department or the ‘IS Department’ as we call it there, that the Information Services department was able to support any of these initiatives that the different administrative departments wanted to embark on.

Some of the groups that I worked very, very closely with were the administration department, the operation department, business development, marketing, the conflicts department, and of course the IT department, so I got to work on a wide variety of things, everything from building out new office spaces and working with the construction crews to identify the technology needs in those spaces, to working with the marketing department on a enormous web project. I’d actually call it even an ‘Online presence project’, where we’ve revamped the entire website, gave them brand new marketing tools and new ways of communicating internally within the organization, as well as externally with customers and clients. Put in lots of automation. Put in lots of processed design. Very, very, very cool stuff. Also, working with the business development group to understand their processes and what we could do to support the attorneys who are out there trying to drum up new business for the firm.

Law firms are a little bit of a special beast in that respect because in a lot of companies, you’ll have a marketing department or you’ll have a sales department that is responsible for bringing in the work. In law firms, it’s up to the guys who make the money to also bring in the work, so making them as efficient as possible and giving them all the tools that they need in order to both do their jobs effectively and to bring in new work, and get their faces in front of people, and help them be seen as thought leaders, and that was all just part of the job. That was actually a great time, but for one reason or another, I ended up leaving there in 2013. I was pretty burnt out on the whole consulting world, and I felt like I really needed to stretch my creative side, so I found myself actually doing corporate and commercial photography of all things. Of course, when I first started off doing photography, I was doing weddings, and bar mitzvahs, and photographing families in the park, and all the things that a brand new photographer does, but I really found my niche in working with companies, because that’s just where I’m most comfortable.

I’m comfortable working with businesses. I like working inside of businesses. I understand them. We speak the same language, so a lot of what I did in my photography company was corporate headshots in corporate events. They were my bread and butter, and as a matter of fact, they actually still are my bread and butter. I also do any type of videography and photography work that’s aimed at promoting a company or a brand, so I say I did. I do.

I’m not sure what the reason is because my company has morphed and evolved a few times since I founded it back in 2013. Back then, it was called ‘Adam S. Lowe Photography’ because really, it was simply a photography company. The thing is that the consulting world and the consulting mindset kept drawing me back in no matter what I did, and part of that is because my passion in my life is helping others be successful, and helping other businesses be successful. I always felt that if I could help other people succeed, that I would also succeed as well. Those of you who live in corporate know that that’s probably not true, but in the small business world, I think that it is, that my success is directly tied to yours. That’s part of what I really enjoy about small business as opposed to the bigger businesses.

The bigger businesses, it’s dog-eat-dog. It’s who can wave their flag the highest, who can make themselves look best in front of the C-suite, and in small business, it’s all about getting results. It’s all about building relationships. It’s all about making sure that you’re adding value and that everybody is winning. That’s why I love small business, and those are some of the things that kept drawing me back to consulting.

Basically, what happened is in early 2016, my wife and I decided that we were going to change the company name from Adam S. Lowe Photography to Adam Lowe Creative, and that name change was going to reflect our aspirations, which were much higher than just a photography and videography company. That name change reflects an aspiration to do consulting work, to provide creative solutions for business problems, whatever those solutions might be, whether they’re technology related, whether they’re process related, whether it is photography related or videography, multimedia related. I like helping businesses in any way that I’m able to do that, so we felt that changing the name to Adam Lowe Create really helped to set that endpoint for us so that we had a target, and that we were telling the world that we are more than just a photography company. Now of course, that doesn’t do anything to put food on the table, so for a while there, it was nothing more than a name change. My thought at first was, “Hey, I’m going to do this big launch and new products and services, and all this other stuff offered”, but honestly, it ended up being just a name change and brand and a logo change at the time for again, a multitude of reasons.

The space that I was occupying at the time, the company that owned that space went bankrupt, so I had to find a new office space, and I had to move my studio from one place to another, so things were ending up in a little bit of turmoil there. All the grand plans that I had for changing my business in 2016, they got back burnered so that I could really just focus on what I was already working on and growing that piece of it, which honestly, ended up being a pretty smart move because I’ve gotten very good and I’ve done a good job of really figuring out who I am as a photography and videography company, what kind of work I do well, what kind of work we can take on, what kind of work we don’t do well and that we need to refer out to other people. Now, you probably noticed there that I switched a couple times between saying ‘I’ and ‘We’. This is something that I’ve personally always struggled with, because the way I see the company is that it’s my name on the door, and no matter what, it’s my butt on the line, and I’m the one who is ultimately responsible and accountable for making sure that my customers are happy. We all know that running a business or doing anything can’t be done in a vacuum.

It really does take a village, so of course, I have my contractors. I have my vendors. I have my partners. I have people that I work with all the time on different projects. I have people that I subcontract to for those things that I’m personally not good at, but that still need to be done, so I do have a team of people, which is why I say ‘We’, even though when you look at the payroll, it’s really just me. My wife is also involved in the company more on a strategic and planning level than anything else.

She works for the government, and we like to keep it that way because as you probably know, benefits. Running a small business kind of suck, so even having a health insurance there is a huge, huge help, but she provides my guidance. She’s my north star. She’s the person that I bounce things off of, and she gives me that reality check when I’m doing something stupid. I probably should listen to her more than I do, so honey, if you’re listening to this, I’m sorry. I’ll try to listen to you more, even though we know that it probably won’t happen, so yeah.

There’s that. Back in 2016, we made the name change, but never actually made the shift in providing additional services. Those started coming somewhere around early to mid-2017, so that’s when I really started jumping back in and offering even simple things like web design projects, some process optimization, consulting, and design, some technology automation. I started offering those to some of my photography clients. Yeah, it’s one of those things where I get into a company, and maybe I’m just doing headshots for them, but I’m talking to the office manager, or I’m talking to one of the executives, and we just start talking about what their business pain points are.

Next thing you know, we’re identifying problems and we’re figuring out ways that we can work together to make things happen. It isn’t very often that a photographer comes in that has a huge breadth of knowledge in the business space, so it is one of those interesting things for me to be sitting there with a CFO for example and having a discussion around their books as I’m taking their headshot, and they realize, “Oh my gosh. If we just did these two or three things, we could improve things so much more”, and they start to really see the value in what I provide. It’s 2017 when I started really dipping my toe in the water and offering those services in a very informal way. That’s really the big change that’s been taking place between then and now, is that now, my goal really is to do that type of work and build that type of business under my own name.

The end goal, if I were to look 12 to 18 months down the future, my end goal really is to make it so that the digital and business services that I provide, that they surpass the photography and videography services that I provide, so that the photo and video services are a complement to my business services, instead of the business services just being something that I do because I happen to be in there doing a photography or videography job and was having the conversation. That’s a whole lot of background, and I hope that gives you some sense of who I am and who Adam Lowe Creative is as a company, and where we came from, and where we’re going. The real question is, “Given all of that, what am I working on today?” We’ve got some really cool things that are happening right now, and this is frankly the very, very exciting time for small businesses. It’s a very exciting time for my business.

There are tools that are on the market now that they may have been on the market for a little while, but they’re really coming into maturity. These are tools that used to be only in the reach of big businesses. These were things that you had to be making at least a million dollars or more a year to be able to afford some of these tools, or to be able to justify using some of these things. Now, they’re so simple to use, and they have been made so that they are within the reach of everybody, even the smallest businesses at basically any price point you can imagine. These are tools for communication, for collaboration, things that make you more efficient, things that can automate your business.

All these things are available. We talked several years ago about the consumerization of technology, and back before 2010, that was a big, a scary thing for a lot of IT departments. Frankly, today, it still is a big, scary thing for a lot of IT departments that technology is becoming so consumer-friendly and that people are finding consumer level technology easier to use than the stuff that’s inside of the businesses. The great thing is that some of this business technology has finally taken a cue from the consumer counterparts, and they have made their products business-friendly. They’ve made their products that they all talk to each other through some means or another, and so you don’t necessarily have a hodgepodge of different tools and technologies that are out there that are uncontrolled anymore.

You have ways that you can come in and design a system using one or more platforms that’ll talk to each other and that’ll work together so that they can be used very, very effectively, instead of just having a couple people off in a corner using their own thing, and the rest of the company doing something completely different. Things have just changed so much, and it’s really, really an awesome time for small business. Small business really is empowered in a way that we had never been before, and I really love being right there on the forefront of it and understanding the technology side of it, as well as the business side of things, as well as the marketing side of things and the visual branding, and the visual marketing side of things. They all tie in together, and they’re all right there in the hands of any business that’s been around for more than two or three years. They can afford to do this stuff and they can find ways to make their business better using these tools, and technologies, and processes, and all the good stuff that I’m talking about.

To that end, I’m going to be announcing a little bit later on this month. Right now, it is July 2018, and I’m hoping by the end of the month, if not, much, much sooner, I’m going to be able to announce a partnership with one of the industry leaders in small business, sales, marketing, and business automation. They’ve got a platform that I personally use for my own business. I’ve fallen in love with it, and I can tell you, it really, it does I’d say 80 to 90% of what some of the big, huge monster platforms that large enterprises use, so this is just really, really cool stuff that is now in the hands of small businesses, and anybody can use it. Anybody can go out there and buy this stuff.

Now, here’s the thing, is that the tool itself, or the tools I should say, because there’s more than one out there in the market. These tools are all as simple or as complicated as you want them to be, and any tool that you buy for your business is really only as good as how it’s implemented and as effective as how you use it, so the tool itself is really the commodity. Anybody can get one and buy a tool and sit on it, and have it do absolutely nothing for you. The value add that Adam Lowe Creative brings, that I bring is understanding how these tools work within your business so that your business can leverage them to bring in new business to help grow your business, to make your processes more streamlined, to help your existing customers be happier, and provide you more leads and referrals. Yeah, we’ve got these technologies that are out there, and yes, if you take the time to learn them, and really, anybody can take the time to learn them, they are extremely powerful.

Where I come into play is that I understand the intersection there already, and I’ve seen a lot of stuff. I’ve seen them be used in a lot of different ways, so I know what kind of things are possible just because I’ve seen it already. I may be able to bring to the table some creative ideas that you may not have thought of because you’re so far down in the weeds. It’s the reason why we have business coaches and consultants out there because they work across a broad spectrum of industries, and they see things with the clarity that we don’t see inside of our own businesses. The things that I’m working on, I’m really growing.

I’m trying to build this digital agency side of my business to focus on web design because I see that as being the central hub to a business’ technology presence. It used to be the company server, if you remember those days. The company server or their email system was the hub of everything that they did. Nowadays, it’s really moving from these systems that used to be shoved in a closet somewhere to the cloud of course, which is just somebody else’s computer shoved in someone else’s closet, but all these things are tied into a company’s web presence. Your lead generation, sales strategies, sales funnels, communication systems, client contact, support systems, all of these things are tied into a website, so while a website itself might be somewhat of a commodity, being able to create a website that actually helps the business and that works for the business, and that does all these things to drive a business forward, that’s not a commodity.

That is a valuable, valuable asset. That’s something you’re not going to get from a $20 a month Squarespace site or a $5 a month or a free Wix.com site, or even a WordPress site that you get from a freelancer somewhere. You really need to be able to understand how all these things interact so that they’re not just little silos, so that your website isn’t just a digital brochure, so that it’s actually in there working for your business to drive sales, to bring in leads, to keep your customers in contact, to make your life easier, to make your client’s experience better, all of those things. This is what a website should be doing. That’s part of the reason why as I grow my company, I really am growing it with the website as being the central hub, even though the website is really just the face of things, and it’s just the common language that people have to talk about their business, and to talk about their pain points, and their wants and their needs.

There’s so much that goes on behind it that it’s so much deeper than just a simple page with some pretty texts, and videos, and graphics on there. That’s enough talk about me and my business. I really wanted to get on to the main topic, which I’ve been touching on in some respects already, but I really want to dive into this to give you some things and some tools that you can actually act on. What the heck really is optimization and automation other than big, fancy words? Basically, anything that you can do or anything that you find yourself doing more than twice per week really should be automated, or it should be templatized, or it should be optimized in some way, shape or form.

Optimization, automation, this is just the art and the science of making complicated things simple and repeatable so that you’re automating anything that can be automated, and you are simplifying anything that can be simplified to save time and reduce the chance of human error. Why do we do this? We do this for a number of reasons, and I’m going to go backward actually in the order of importance. First of all, the easy thing to say is that it saves time. If it takes me 30 minutes to do a task right now the manual way and I can do it with a piece of technology in six minutes, and that’s something that I find myself doing 10 times a week, that adds up to real-time savings.

That adds up to real money in the end, either money that I’m spending on employees or an assistant to do, or money that I’m losing because I’m not able to work in my own business, but using that time to do things that are bringing cash in for my own company. The other thing that automation and process optimization does is that it really standardizes the customer experience, and it makes it so that problems and opportunities that you might have, they can be identified and they can be addressed. They can be worked on. If you’re doing things for your customers in a slightly different way each time, you may not be able to see where problems are arising, or if you have customers that are complaining about certain things, if you don’t have standardized processes, you may not be able to figure out how to fix those issues. You might just be constantly putting out fires, so having these standard processes, having things automated really gives you a chance to come in there and fix things that are broken, or define opportunities where you can surprise and delight your customers more so that you can make their overall buying experience with you a little bit better.

The last thing that all of this does, and this is probably the most important thing, is that it can help you get more business. It does this in a couple ways. First of all, you can use automation technologies to keep in touch with your existing customers and your past customers. You can keep them engaged with you in ways that you necessarily wouldn’t be able to do manually because it would be too time-consuming. You can use technologies to keep new leads from slipping through the cracks.

How many times have you gotten a phone call or an email about a piece of business, or someone sent you a referral about something, and you followed up on it once, maybe you followed up on it twice, but after that, you just lost touch with the contact? Maybe it wasn’t because the contact wasn’t interested. Maybe it was just because they had other things going on in their lives and their businesses, and that it wasn’t a priority for them. Maybe it’s because you hadn’t given them all the information or all the things that they needed in order to make a decision at the time, so having some of these sales and automation tools in place can really help you get new business, and frankly, it can make it easy for people to do business with you. That’s one thing that I always found really strange, is that so many companies make it hard for me to do business with them, and I don’t understand why.

Having these types of processes, these types of systems in place make it so easy so that a customer wants to spend money with you, that before they’ve done anything with you, before they spent a single dollar, they’re already happy with what you provided them. They’re already happy with the experience, and you’re just going to continue that great experience throughout the entire sales, buying, delivery, and follow up, and post-customer support process. All of this sounds pretty complicated, right? Here’s the thing, is that it really doesn’t have to be. I always say that you should start very, very small, that you should start with the simplest things, start on a piece of paper, start on a whiteboard before you even consider changing things or adding technologies, or adding any tools to the mix.

We’ve all heard the saying that, “There’s a solution out there looking for a problem.” I see this time and time again, and somebody comes to me and says that they just bought this purple widget, and they need help implementing it. The truth is that purple widget isn’t really what they need. They actually need the green do that instead. They just didn’t realize that their actual root cause was something completely different than what they had identified, so starting simple, starting on that whiteboard, outlining things before you dive in, and coming up with a solution.

That’s definitely the way to go. Start with one thing at a time. You’ve heard the saying, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” That’s really what you should do. Anytime that you start doing any sort of process improvement endeavor, particularly in a new company, I like to come in and start with one isolated process or one isolated problem, something that I can make an impact on as quickly as possible.

That’s generally going to be something that is a change that can be made within two weeks, two weeks to a month, something that isn’t going to have a huge ripple down effect on the rest of the company, but something that will see a significant result. That can be any number of things. That can be starting with a monthly newsletter to re-engage past clients. That might be putting a lead generation form on your website, or creating a sales funnel, a series of web pages that helps to sell a particular product, or maybe creating a sales funnel with a webinar that help sell a big product, but also can sell a smaller product for those people that aren’t ready for the big whopper product out there. These are all things that can be implemented relatively quickly and simply.

It might even be something as simple as an automated calendaring solution, so that you don’t have to spend hours a day or your assistant doesn’t have to spend hours a day juggling calendars between your internal staff or setting up meetings between you and external clients. These are all things that we can come in very, very quickly and make happen. Frankly, if you want to do them yourselves, I have a feeling that if you sat down and actually thought about it for a few minutes, you might be able to find one or more processes that can be streamlined and audited very, very quickly inside of your own company. From there, once we have this first process done, we’ve got a little bit of traction under our feet, and we’ve done a proof of concept in and we’ve shown that this isn’t just a scam, this isn’t just money being thrown at something where you’re never going to see results, then we go in and we start looking at the big picture. We start looking at the business as a whole.

“What does the company do? How does your company interact with customers? How do your customers interact with your company, and how do customers find your company, or how does your company interact internally?” These are all things that you really should take a good look at from a hundred thousand foot view so that you can see the interconnectedness of it all. From there, it’s amazing the clarity that you’re going to see when you start diagramming all of this. You’re going to start to realize that there are so many opportunities for improvement internally.

You’re going to see opportunities for improvement externally, and the ideas are just going to start flowing. Without fail, you’re going to come up with five to 10 ideas right off the bat just by looking at things from this hundred thousand foot view. From there, we start really drilling into what the problems actually are. Maybe we’ve identified a big problem in the marketing or the sales systems, so then we go in and we start to identify, “What really is the cause of this problem? What are the details here? What is that root cause?”

Again, we’re looking at everything on paper first. Sometimes, we’re diagramming things with Sticky Notes. Sometimes, we’re doing it on a whiteboard. It’s amazing what you can do when you have tactile tools in front of you, instead of just a PowerPoint Deck. We’re trying to dive right in and make things happen inside of a particular tool.

We always figure out what the root cause is, what the root issues are, and how we’re going to address them before we even begin evaluating tools, and systems, and processes to implement them. Then finally, the last step is of course actually implementing these systems. That can be, maybe it’s a checklist that you go down every time you deliver a certain product or service. It can be something that’s simple. Maybe it’s just a series of templates that your sales teams use or that you use when you’re responding to certain customer requests.

I mean, these are some really, really low-hanging fruit things that if you just take the time to do them, they can save you a ton, a ton of time, and they can make it so that your customer experience is standardized so that your customers all see the same thing, and so that you’re providing the same high level of service to all of those customers. You might be asking, “How long does all of the stuff take? That seems like an awful lot.” It really depends on the effort that you want to put into it. Those quick wins, I say they take between one to two weeks.

The deep dive analysis, that really depends on your business. That can take days. That can take weeks. It can take months, and it really all depends on the complexity of your business, and the cooperation of you and your leadership team. This isn’t something that I can come in. I can’t come in with me, just me or me and a team, or anybody else and do it for you.

This is something that really needs to be a collaborative process so that we are working together and so that we’re understanding your business, and so that the changes that we’re proposing, the changes that we’re making actually fit within the context of your business, and that they’re things that are going to be adopted by your business, and that they’ll work for your customers. Those things, it takes time. Now, the solution implementation. Of course, that all depends on what we find during that analysis stage. Sometimes like I mentioned, it’s just simply a matter of using your existing tools in a slightly different way, and other times, it’s a matter of making a big, big change to your business, and that’s something that can take weeks or months, or in some cases, when I’m working with very large businesses, it can take a couple of years.

For small businesses, definitely not a couple of years. We’re probably talking more in the weeks and months arena, but some initiatives really are just that complicated and have that many moving parts. In my mind though, the simpler that we can keep the process and simpler that we can keep the solution, the better off everybody is. I don’t like things to drag out. No business owner likes for things to drag out, so simplicity is really where it’s all at.

I think there’s a famous quote from Steve Jobs, where he said that, “Simple can be harder than complex”, that, “You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple, but it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” I think that is a great, great quote, because it does take a lot of mental energy to under-complicate things, to take those things that in our brain is so difficult and so complicated, and really boil it down to its essence. One of the things that I really like to say is that business is hard, but then, it doesn’t need to be complicated. That is really where my passion lies and that’s where all of this process optimization and process automation stuff, where it all comes into play. All of this is stuff that you can do on your own.

Absolutely 100%, but you’ve got to have the time to do it. You’ve got to have the focus to do it, and you need to be able to take that step back in order to see what needs to be done with a very, very clear head, and you also need to see what other industries outside of your own, and what other companies are doing so that you have that knowledge and that vision of what’s possible. I hope that was helpful. I’m sure that there are some things … If I were to give you just a couple quick takeaways there, I would say number one, start with your emails.

Look at what emails you find yourself sending over and over again. Stop going back into old emails and copying things and pasting them into new emails. Go ahead and just make a template. Maybe you do it inside of a Word Document. Maybe you use an add-in for your Outlook or your Gmail, something like Yesware that has templates built-in, so that all you have to do is click in the template and fill out a couple of things to customize it for your client, but try to standardize and templatize your email because that really can be a huge, huge, huge time suck.

Then, the other thing is to look at your business from that hundred thousand foot view, and make a diagram of it, and look at not only how you do things, but how your customer gets to you, and you’re going to be really surprised at the things that you see. From there, hopefully you reach out to me and we can work together to develop some solutions to make things better for your business, make things better for your company, and improve your bottom line. That’s all I have to say about that. All right. I do this to all of my podcast guests, and I’m going to do it to myself, is the lightning round.

Now, I will warn you right ahead of time that I have not prepared for this. I prepared all sorts of other show notes, but I didn’t prepare for the lightning round, so this is going to be a little bit awkward. Question number one, “If I could gift one book to everyone that I meet, what would it be?” I would have to say my favorite book of all time, my favorite business book would have to be ‘The Effective Executive’ by Peter Drucker. This book doesn’t necessarily have to be for executives or CEOs.

Really can be for any knowledge worker. It just talks about how effectiveness doesn’t exist without performance, and that everybody from a line worker to a manager to a top-level CEO, that they have expectations, that they have to take responsibility for their contribution, and that they have to be equipped to make the right decision, and that knowledge work isn’t defined by how much you do, that it’s not defined by how much it costs. It’s defined by the results that it gets, so there’s so much great, great information and great lessons. So many great lessons in this book that I think anybody can take away from it, and it’s a book that I try to read at least once a year, and I love it, and I highly, highly recommend it. Maybe it’s written a little bit dry.

Definitely, it’s written a little bit dry as most Peter Drucker’s books are, but at the same time, they are just jam-packed full of powerful, powerful information. All right. The second question is, “What’s the biggest mistake that I see business leaders make?” That biggest mistake that I see them make is wasting time. Again, this comes down to my adversity to doing the same thing over and over again, and the reason why I like productivity, why I like process automation, why I like process optimization is frankly, I’m lazy.

I don’t like doing the same thing more than once, so anytime I see a business owner or a worker doing the same thing over and over again, I think that it’s a big mistake, and I think that there’s an opportunity there to make things work better and faster and more streamlined. “What’s one tool or a piece of technology or something that I feel like I can’t live without?” This is a really tough one, and I’m torn between two different things here. I want to say a whiteboard, because I absolutely love drawing things out on a whiteboard. There’s nothing quite as good as sitting there with a giant magic marker and a huge whiteboard, and just scribbling ideas across it.

Here’s the funny thing though. In my new office, I don’t have a whiteboard yet, and I still need to get one, and I’ve been here for almost a year, and I still don’t have a whiteboard. What is it that I find indispensable? Sticky Notes, and in a lot of ways, I use them the same way that I would use a whiteboard, and I start drawing and writing little notes all over the tiny, little Sticky Notes, and I put them up on a wall and I move them around, and I use that as kind of a brainstorming tool. That reminds me that I probably should go and actually buy a real whiteboard, and maybe I’ll do that some day. Maybe I’ll do that sooner rather than later because my Sticky Notes do get a little bit ridiculous at times, but there you have it.

Those are the things that I feel like I can’t live without. For a self-proclaimed nerd and technology geek to say whiteboard and Sticky Notes are his must-have things, that should tell you something, because I’m also the guy that doesn’t leave his house without his iPad. I didn’t say that my iPad is my most important tool. All right. Number four, “If I could have lunch with anybody dead or alive, who would it be and why?”

I’m going to say Walt Disney. I know that a few other people have said Walt Disney, and I feel like it’s a bit of a cop-out by saying this, but the guy was just such an incredible visionary, such an incredible thinker, such an innovator and storyteller. This is a man who’ve really understood what people want and knew how to give it to them, and knew how to get what he wanted out of his business even when everyone else in the world was saying that it couldn’t be done, so Walt Disney definitely is the person that I would want to have lunch with. If for some reason, his calendar was booked and I couldn’t get him, I would say that I’d have lunch with Steve Jobs for a lot of the same reasons. I probably wouldn’t choose Steve Jobs as my first pick because he would probably call me an idiot in more than a few ways, and I’d come away from lunch much happier and fuzzier feeling on the inside with Walt Disney, and I’d come away from lunch feeling like a moron and an idiot from Steve Jobs, although I’m sure both conversations would be really enlightening.

All right. Last but not least, a fun fact that people may or may not know about me. This is something that we have to reach way, way back to, and that is that I used to be a pretty hardcore athlete. I used to do a lot of whitewater kayaking. As a matter of fact, in 2013, my wife and I kayaked down the Grand Canyon for four weeks, so we did a trip in February.

It was negative four degrees Fahrenheit when we put on the water. We spent four weeks just kayaking, and rafting, and paddling down the Grand Canyon with a group of 15 of our closest friends, so we didn’t do a guided tour or anything like that. It was just us, and we were on our own, and it was one of the coolest thing that I’ve ever done and such a life-changing experience. On top of that, I also used to race a lot of triathlons. This was something that I felt like I needed to do for myself.

I’m one of those people where I need to have a goal. I need to have something to strive for, to push for, and I need to have that thing that I’m constantly working towards, and I found that triathlon was that thing for me early in the 2000’s. Any given weekend, I would be waking up at 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning, grabbing my bicycle so that I could go ride anywhere between 50 and a hundred miles for a training ride, come back and have a breakfast at IHOP, and come back and wake my wife up, or my girlfriend who’s now my wife. Wake her up at 11:00 AM. It’s just kind of funny that I felt like I did more before 11:00 AM than most people did before they even rolled out of bed.

That’s something that if you want to look at me right now, you’d definitely would not think that I was a pretty hardcore athlete, but I definitely was, and I still have that mindset of an athlete. My body just doesn’t want to keep up, and hopefully some day, I’ll be able to get my body back to where it was, or at least back to cooperating with me so that I can get some of that back because I truly think that being physical helps my brain think more than anything else. Wow. That was pretty exhausting. Talking into a microphone with nobody on the other end, it’s a really strange feeling. It’s super fun, but also really strange, and I’m very surprised at how long this has gone on, so I apologize for that.

I try to keep these podcasts around 30, 45 minutes, and I thought that this was going to be a quick one, but apparently, I had more to say than I thought I did. I hope you enjoyed this week’s interview. If you want to learn more about me and my business, you can visit me online at www.AdamLoweCreative.com. If you enjoyed this podcast, I would love it if you could subscribe and give me a five-star rating on iTunes, Google Play, or Stitcher Radio. Just search for the Business Insight Lab, or go to www.AdamLoweCreative.com/podcast, and click the links. Have a great week, and I’ll talk to you again soon.