Do professional sports coaches say “Go out there and do whatever you want”? No! They develop strategies and systems for offense and defense, and they teach their teams to play their positions well. In short, they run “plays that work.”

As a business coach, I’ve identified five winning plays that work to improve the businesses and lives of small company owners.

These are not plays I’ve made up. These are tried-and-true best practices that you may have read about in business self-help books. (I’ve read scores of these books over my 30-year business management career.) The problem with reading about best practices is figuring out (a) which ones might actually work in your particular situation and (b) how to put the ideas into practice in real life.

Based on my experience coaching a dozen businesses for the last five years (and running three of my own small companies for 25 years before that), I’ve seen five “plays that work” almost every time:

1. Weekly Meeting
2. Weekly Metrics
3. Weekly Plan
4. Quarterly Plan with Goals
5. Stop Working!

Let’s start with the easiest play first.

1. Weekly Meeting

Set aside 60-90 minutes for a weekly meeting. It should occur on the same day of the week and the same time of day. Never skip it. Never reschedule it. And always start and end it on time. Follow the same, structured agenda each week.

Who’s in this meeting? Depends. Maybe it’s your senior leadership team. In a very small company (<10 people), maybe it’s everyone. If you’re a solo practitioner, meet with another solo, or an accountability partner, or a business coach.

In his book “Traction,” Gino Wickman calls this the Level 10 Meeting. In “Getting Things Done,” David Allen calls it the Weekly Review. And Vern Harnish, in “Scaling Up,” calls it the Meeting Rhythm.

Why it works: Whatever name you use, weekly meetings create space and time to identify and solve issues in your business. They give your team an opportunity to ask questions and bring up ideas (or help solo operators reflect on how they could improve).

2. Weekly Metrics

Measures of activity that you control lead to the results that you want.

Let’s say you want X new sales contracts. You usually can’t control if or when prospects sign up. But you can control (and count) how many cold calls/emails you make, how many appointments you set, and the number and frequency of follow-up contacts.

In “Traction,” this is called the Weekly Scorecard. In the book “Simple Numbers,” Greg Crabtree calls it the Reporting Rhythm.

Why it works: Keeping a weekly performance scorecard makes you and your team accountable for taking the actions that lead to the results you want. It also forces you to acknowledge when you haven’t taken those actions. And it can help you understand which actions work, and which don’t.

The key to making weekly metrics work is to report and track the numbers so you can compare how you’ve done over the past month, quarter, six months, and year.

3. Weekly Plan

Start or end your week with a plan of what must get finished during the next week and what is important to make progress on. It is important to define and separate your priorities.

The weekly plan can be as simple as an organized (or categorized) list. And it’s okay to include personal as well as business items. In “Getting Things Done,” David Allen calls this “getting it all out of your head.” Be sure to review or rewrite your plan each week so you can reset your priorities as needed.

Why it works: A weekly plan helps you overcome the feeling that “I’m so busy I can’t think straight” or “I have so much to do I don’t know where to start.” Once you put all the items into a weekly plan, the next steps become instantly clear.

4. Quarterly Plan with Goals

I encourage all my clients to take about four hours at the end of each 90-day period to think through and do the following:

  • Document how I did last quarter (good, bad, and what changes I need to make next quarter)
  • List all my problems, issues, and opportunities—and prioritize them (items to accomplish in the next 90 days; items to postpone for at least 90 days)
  • Choose a few goals that will move your business forward in the next 90 days (concentrate on just a few but REALLY get them done)

If you’ve read Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” you’ll recognize this play as what he calls “first things first” and “rocks.” Gino Wickman calls this process “Quarterly Pulsing and the 90-day World.”

Let’s say your 90-day goal is to revise your website. You know you can’t do it in a day, or even a week, but you can estimate the total time it might take. Let’s say you estimate 40 hours to create content, meet with the web designer, and review copy and graphics. Doing the math, that means you need to spend about three hours each week working on this goal.

Why it works: Planning by quarter and setting 90-day goals forces you to assess how you are doing, creates time and space for you to think about what could be done better, and sets the right priorities for the next 90 days.

5. Stop Working!

I often find that the best advice I can give to a business owner is to stop and recharge—take a break from working.

In her book, “The Four Week Vacation—The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Taking Your Life Back from Your Business,” Sabrina Starling cites research that shows, unfortunately, that most small business owners are at high risk for burn-out. If stress continues unabated, business performance decreases and the likelihood of a health or personal relationship crisis increases.

Why it works: Even one or two days of relaxation—or any “not working” activity—helps you gain energy and perspective. Gino Wickman calls this “taking a clarity break.” Another great coach, Mike Michalowicz, in his book “Clockwork,” calls this the “Fifth D” (for downtime).

These five winning “plays that work” are all simple in concept, but not always easy to pull off—which is where a good coach can help.

For examples of how these plays work in real life, or to chat about how to execute these plays for your business, give me a call at (914) 740-8661 or set up a free 45-minute consultation by clicking here.