Reviving a stagnant career, maintaining a hot streak, or even pushing on from a solid position already can seem like an art form. But it’s actually a science.
There’s a formula to follow. And if you get the components right, you can forget about square one.
The key to reviving your career is figuring out which components are the right ones for you and your business. Then applying a simple rule.
You may have heard this phrase chucked around by management, dudes in the office with “entrepreneur” in their LinkedIn bio or read it in articles.
The 80/20 rule, or the Pareto principle is the brainchild of Romanian economist Joseph Juran. Juran took what Vilfredo Pareto observed in the late 19th century – that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population and applied it to business management.
The rule of thumb is that 80% of your desired output comes from just 20% of your input. It works the other way too, in that 80% of your pain points come from only 20% of sources.
The ratios may change depending on how detailed you want to go. Nowadays we’re more used to using phrases like ‘the 99%’ and ‘1%ers’ when it comes to describing wealth inequality. You might find that with your own business the ratios are closer to 90/10 or even 60/40.
Regardless, the chief principle is:
A minority of causes will be responsible for the majority of consequences – good and bad – and vice versa.
Microsoft illustrated this back in 2002 when then CEO Steve Ballmer reported that 80% of Windows and Office errors came from just 20% of all bugs. Going further, they found that 50% of all errors came from just 1% of bugs.
A dead easy way of applying the 80/20 rule is by way of time management. Imagine you only work one day a week. You aren’t lifting a finger for the other four.
What activities would you absolutely have to do, without fail, on that one day to guarantee the money came in at the end of the month?
Whatever you’re left with is your new day plan, and you simply ‘groundhog day’ until the end of time.
If you focus on the vital few actions, in this case 20% of your activity, and omit the trivial many, 80%, you should have a streamlined day plan staring you in the face.
The 80/20 rule is a multi-applicable principle that doesn’t just benefit your schedule. When it comes to managing your client base, there’s a first step and a second option, and that’s basically all there is to it.
Time to have a really honest look at the state of your desk.
However detailed you track your metrics is up to you but it all boils down to one simple question:
Which clients are responsible for the bulk of your billings?
For the sake of basic maths, let’s say you billed £100k last year. You worked jobs with five different clients, and here’s how they all fed into that princely figure.
If 2 clients make up 80% of your total billings, that’s where to prioritise your time and effort. Your own division of revenue is never going to look this straightforward but once you’ve identified your top 20% of clients you’ve got three options to choose from.
Cultivate, replicate or eliminate?
1. Cultivate your existing client base
2. Replicate your top performing client profile
3. Eliminate the tasks that make up the trivial majority
You could actively prioritise the work you do for your top clients ahead of the others. Done correctly, this can lead to exclusivity agreements, more roles or a chance to branch into lateral markets.
If growing your desk’s a priority, take a look at the similarities between your top clients and use this as a benchmark for your BD activity.
Companies typically use this method to drive sales by identifying commonalities in their top customer profiles and then actively targeting similar demographics with bespoke advertising campaigns.
Internet entrepreneur Noah Kagan used the 80/20 principle as Director of Marketing at Mint. He was tasked with bringing 100,000 new users to the platform inside six months. He ended up with a million. And perhaps sums up the modern interpretation of Pareto’s principle most succinctly.
“When something doesn’t work, move on. When something does work, do more of it”.
Alternatively, you could eliminate the trivial majority from your workload.
Whether this manifests itself as deprioritising requests from your underperforming clients or politely declining to work with them altogether, the main benefit of this is that you have eliminated a big chunk of unproductive tasks from your day.
This can then allow you to spend more time on other parts of your business. Meetings, marketing your brand or managing a team of your own.
Team leaders: what 20% of consultants are responsible for 80% of your revenue? Alternatively, what minority of consultants are responsible for the majority of your headaches?
Google notoriously use the Pareto Principle to poach customers from Microsoft. Recognising most office users only take advantage of 20% of the functionality of things like Word and Excel, they sought to create products that only replicate around 20% of those core features. This resulted in a similar product that’s more user friendly and with infinitely less spend on development.
Case in point: I wrote this article on Google Docs because it’s way easier to use than Word.
You can also apply this principle to your life in the real world, if you’ve allowed such a thing to exist.
What 20% of shows on Netflix are responsible for 80% of background noise? Which housemate represents 20% of the population in your flat but causes 80% of the washing up?
Food for thought anyway. As long as it’s not doughnuts.
Principal Consultant – Interim Finance at Cobalt Recruitment
Recruitment consultant - Logistics Desk at HTE recruitment
Consultant - Change into Property & Construction at Deltra Group
Consultant or Senior Consultant - Life Sciences at Usurpo
Consultant(e) Senior en recrutement IT at LHi GROUP
Senior Consultant - Marketing Desk @ Carter Murray at The SR Group