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Traction: A Book Review

August 9, 2022

Traction first came to me by way of recommendation from Abby Springmann, owner of Abby Grace Photography. She is one of the photographers I most look up to for business sense and balancing not only life and business, but business and creativity as well. She mentioned this book when speaking about goal planning for your business…I am a goal planning sucker, so I knew I had to put it on my 2022 reading list, and I am thankful I did.

Throughout this “review,” I am going to do my best to give you all the basics of each chapter, but please note that in order to really understand the depth this book goes into, you must read it for yourself. This book is a little intimidating at first because it is geared towards larger small businesses. One of the examples has a 3-year plan to reach $14.1 million in revenue. Spoiler alert: I am not there and my photography business likely never will be. But there are some key parts that apply to business, regardless of the size of said business, and that is what I’ll be focusing on today. So let’s go ahead and dive in!

Traction is a book about the “Entrepreneurial Operating System,” or “EOS.” The main tenants of this operating system are discipline, accountability, and consistency that then leads to traction, or growth, within your business. The EOS has 6 key components:

  1. Vision
  2. People
  3. Data
  4. Issues
  5. Process
  6. Traction

Each of these has its own chapter within the book, so there is much more detail that Wickman goes into; however, I will scratch the surface of each one here.

Vision

Vision, as you can probably anticipate, is all about the future of the business–where you, as the owner, sees it going, see as its goals, etc. One of the main issues with vision is that while the owner may have it, if the others that are involved with the business don’t have it, then it becomes an issue because you’re working in different directions.

For me, as a solopreneur, this doesn’t really apply in the sense that my employees need to know the vision, but it does apply that my family needs to know the vision. While this is not something Wickman touches on in the text, I think it equally applies given the state of my business! Regardless, the vision must be shared with everyone! It cannot be left up to interpretation for multiple people to figure out.

In order to share the vision, an extremely useful document is introduced: the Vision/Track Organizer (V/TO). It’s a simple two-page document that has everything anyone could need to know about your business. Sounds impossible, right? NO! In fact, the entire rest of the book walks us through how to fill in the blanks of the V/TO so that at a quick glance any new employee can hop on board with the vision.

My favorite part of the V/TO is that goal-planning portion of it. It has a quick snapshot of the 10-year, 3-year, 1-year, and quarterly goals on it. How to get an accurate vision for what those goals will be is discussed in depth in the text.

In this chapter, core values and core focus are discussed. For me, I sort of skipped over this part in the beginning of my business because, well…it was just me. Why does a one-person business need values? But just like those values would be shared with employees, it is valuable to share those values with those affected by your business (i.e. my husband and children) so that they know what I am working toward and why! Also, in the case of larger businesses with multiple employees, those core values will help you throughout the hiring process, which leads us to our next component: people.

People

I love this chapter. The main takeaway is: Put the right people in the right seats.

And you know why I love this? Because I truly think each individual has his/her own strengths, but if not put in the environment for those strengths to show, that individual could feel useless. Like a fish out of water.

So first, Wickman encourages whoever is hiring to keep the core values at the forefront of their mind when bringing on a new team member. While I don’t have any employees, I do hire second shooters. And I can definitely tell when someone isn’t a good fit, but since I never clarified my core values, I couldn’t specify why. Most of the time it boiled down to service. I want to anticipate the needs of my clients before they know they have them, but if I don’t have a second shooter who is dedicated to that value of service like I am…it just feels like they’re in the wrong seat.

Wickman also introduces within this chapter an Accountability Chart, which is similar to an organizational chart, but dives a little deeper with duties attached to each position, rather than just an outline of the company hierarchy. This portion does not apply as much to the solopreneur, but I think it could still be healthy to outline all the different hats one wears as a solopreneur to make sure you are holding yourself accountable and not letting one portion of your business slip through the cracks. He encourages business owners to share this Accountability Chart so that everyone is on the same page. Consistency weaves itself throughout the entire EOS.

Data

Admittedly, data is one of my weak spots. It’s a self-imposed weak spot though…I always thought because I was an English major that numbers could never be my thing. And honestly, sometimes I still feel that way. But data drives businesses…a business wouldn’t be a business without numbers. So although I have gotten better in my five years of being in business, it’s high time to introduce a measure that a little more consistent and keep me a little more accountable.

The Scorecard is Wickman’s way of keeping a tab on weekly numbers. These numbers could be seemingly insignificant, as they aren’t the big picture numbers that are on a Profit and Loss Statement.

Probably my favorite part about this section is that every employee has his/her own “number.” The example he used is that even the receptionist has a number. The receptionist’s number is two, which means her goal is to answer the phone within two rings.

To put this into practice as a solopreneur, we could set the goal number of inquiries we want to receive each week; the number of weddings we want to book each year; the number of minutes we want to be on social media. There are a ton of numbers we could assign to ourselves, even as solopreneurs, that could help to keep us accountable!

Issues

Let’s face it–every business has its issues (mine included!). In order to create even further accountability, the “Issues” are placed right there on the V/TO for everyone to see. The goal is not to ignore the issues until they break the company…rather they should be acknowledged so that all employees (leadership and otherwise) can come forward with something they seem may be affecting productivity, morale, etc.

One interesting point that Wickman made about company issues is that many times when trying to sit down and discover the issues, so many items can be written down, like an overwhelming amount. But often times, through thorough discussion, the root issue can be identified and often many of those other issues are simply symptoms of the main issue.

The strategy he delivers to dive into this issue-identifying and solving process is a very simple, straightforward acronym: IDS –> Identify, Discuss, and Solve. There are specific strategies and steps involved with each step of IDS, which can be found in the text.

Process

We’ve touched on core values and core focus, but what about those core processes? Wickman states that the average company has 6-7 core processes, mostly focused around these areas:

HR, Marketing, Sales, Operations, Accounting, Customer Retention

Working by myself, initially I thought…nah, I don’t need any of the core processes written down. They’re all in my head and I only ever work by myself. You know, until I had a baby and needed someone to associate shoot for me…then I realized that those core processes…well, they’re pretty important to my business and need to be verbalized somewhere!

On a smaller scale, it can be helpful to have a full marketing plan or a full accounting system even if you are a solopreneur. This helps to hold you accountable to yourself and not let small things (like that Instagram post or, you know, paying yourself) fall through the cracks.

He recommends writing all these core processes down. If you are in the position to have multiple employees, after these processes are defined and written down, retrain your employees so they know exactly what to do and what is expected of them! Then also update your Accountability Chart if need be. See how all these pieces work together and affect one another?! This is why I love this system.

Traction

The sixth and final component is traction. Traction is great, as long as it is in the right direction. This component is all about continuing to reiterate those core values, that core focus, the V/TO, the Accountability Chart, all of those things so that everyone can be on the same page, working toward the same goal, which will ultimately lead to success and growth within the company.

This traction is achieved by a series of meetings. Now, don’t cringe at the “m-word.” Wickman sells meetings pretty darn well in this book! For larger businesses, he suggests have a Weekly Pulse meeting (specific topics and duration of said topics are listed in the text), Quarterly Meetings during which “Rocks” are defined and checked in on, and finally, an Annual Planning Meeting to adjust the 1-, 3-, and 10-year goals as seen on the V/TO based off the Rocks achieved that year. A “Rock” is a quarterly goal that each person (leadership and employees) have for themselves that has a tangible number attached to it to ensure accountability of said Rock at the end of each quarter.

Rocks can, without a doubt, be applied to solopreneurs. If I had to guess, this is where many of us run off the rails because we have big goals for our businesses, but haven’t broken them down into smaller, actionable tasks. For example, if I wanted to start a podcast…that isn’t going to happen overnight, right? I would need to research which podcasts are out there, how my knowledge can fill a hole in what’s covered now, the equipment I need, who can host it, how to plan content schedule, how to create show notes…a ton of stuff, right? But when that’s broken down to goals for a quarter, it seems much more manageable.

To boil it down into three words that describe Traction and the Entrepreneurial Operating System:

Discipline. Accountability. Consistency.

Those are what makes this method successful. While overall this book may be geared towards larger companies than what many small creative businesses are, there are still a ton of great nuggets of knowledge sprinkled throughout. Overall, I think if we, as creative entrepreneurs, approach our businesses as if they are going to have multiple employees and make multi-millions of dollars, it would probably also help with that Imposter Syndrome that creeps up every now and then…and don’t tell me you’ve never felt it! Armed with this knowledge and this operating system, every entrepreneur can build the foundation for their business to grow as big as they’d like it to!

10/10 would recommend reading the full version of Traction!


If you enjoyed this book review, be sure to check out some of my other ones:

Profit First

The E-Myth: Revisited

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