How do you start the process of making your business more efficient? I started looking for solutions for my business four years ago with a simple question: What is the most efficient organization in the world? That is what we all aspire to have — an efficient organization that generates money on automatic, which in turn gives us the freedom to do what we want, when we want. My Google result? Squatola.

Then, one fateful day, during a long drive, I flipped through radio stations and came across the most random report about bees. An NPR field reporter was out there with a beekeeper, reporting on how these insects do the amazing work they do. And, in typical NPR fashion, they shared some of the live action, including a sting that the reporter took when he got a tad too close to the hive.

As I listened, what impressed me most about bee colonies was their ability to scale extremely fast and nearly effortlessly. You may have seen it for yourself. A bee buzzes around outside your window one day, and what seems like the next day, you spot a massive hive there. How do bees do it?

Each bee in the colony knows it needs to do just two things, in the same order, every time. First, each bee must ensure that the queen bee is protected — nothing is more important, because of the role she serves. Then, and only then, the bees go do their Primary Job. As a result, their buzzness (I swear I will only do that once) grows quickly and easily.

Here’s how bee colonies operate:

  1. A hive has a queen bee, and her role is to lay eggs. The task of laying eggs is the Queen Bee Role — the QBR. If the QBR is humming along, eggs are laid and the colony is positioned to grow quickly and easily. If the queen bee is not fulfilling her role of laying eggs, the entire hive is in jeopardy.
  2. Every bee knows the most critical function for the colony to thrive is the production of eggs, so the queen bee, who is designated to fulfill that role, is protected and served. She is fed. She is sheltered. She is not distracted by anything other than doing her job.
  3. Don’t confuse the queen bee as being the most important part of a colony; it is the role she serves that is most important. Eggs need to be made quickly and continually. One specific queen or another is not critical; the QBR is what is critical. So, if the queen bee dies or is failing to produce eggs, the colony will immediately get to work spawning another queen bee so the QBR can get going again.
  4. Whenever the bees are satisfied that the QBR is being fully served, they go off to do their Primary Job. Which could be collecting pollen and nectar (food), caring for the eggs and larvae, maintaining the hive temperature, or defending the hive…from being exploited by NPR reporters.

After learning how beehives scale so efficiently, I had the aha moment of a lifetime. I realized that declaring and serving the QBR would radically improve any entrepreneur’s business and quality of life. I decided to immediately test my theory in my own business — more about that later — and with Cyndi Thomason, an entrepreneur I had been coaching, one-on-one, in recent years.

If you read my book Surge, you might remember Cyndi’s story. In brief, I guided her through the Surge growth process; she followed it to the letter, and in just a couple months went from one marginal lead a month to one solid lead a day. Her business exploded. She was now in the uncharted territory of having to turn away new prospects left and right. It was an amazing transformation; she now had better and better clients and better and better profits. It also sucked; Cyndi had more work than ever before. She was beyond overwhelmed. She was in full-on panic mode. She worked constantly, and it still wasn’t enough to keep up with the demand.

Cyndi has this comforting Arkansan accent, and she’s a great orator. Kind of like a female version of Bill Clinton. Except the day she told me about how overwhelmed she was, she sounded like Bill Clinton in a Barbara Walters interview, talking through tears.

Don’t confuse the queen bee as being the most important part of a colony; it is the role she serves that is most important.

When I asked what her QBR was, Cyndi wasn’t able to come up with an instant answer. We discussed it, and eventually she was able to land on her company’s core function: compassionate and clear communication. Cyndi said, “When I speak with my clients, no matter what is going on, good or bad, I find a way to make them understand the circumstances and bring them back to a state of confidence. I give them peace of mind. For us, that communication keeps everything on track.”

When Cyndi wasn’t checking in with her clients, taking the time to understand their concerns and clearly explain solutions, she saw a noticeable decrease in income. When she did check in, revenue increased. Communication, she had decided, was critical to the success of her business.

Just as laying eggs is the QBR for bee colonies, proactively communicating with clients is the QBR Cyndi identified for her company. What single action does your business hinge its success on? That’s your QBR.

“How much time are you spending on the QBR [checking in with your clients] in a 40-hour week?” I asked Cyndi.

There was a long pause. Not one where the person is trying to compute the answer. But one of those pauses where the answer immediately came to mind and the person is playing out the implications of their answer. Cyndi then spoke up. “Maybe two hours.”

Two hours out of 40. Five percent! Five percent of her time was spent on the most important role in her business. And let’s be honest, Cyndi doesn’t cap her workweek at 40 hours. (Neither do you.) She is spending less than 5 percent of her time on the QBR. And the other 95 percent of the time, Cyndi was busy doing the books, managing employees — you know the drill. Even with more employees, her work did not get easier; it intensified. She had more people doing stuff for her—effectively more hands.

But Cyndi was still stuck making every decision. Her job was one of two things at any given time: relentlessly doing the work or answering the never-ending stream of questions from the people who were supposed to be doing the work for her. Her business was one brain (hers) with eight arms (theirs) flailing all about. As a result, her business growth actually put more stress on her. Sound familiar?

Once we identified Cyndi’s QBR, we made the shift. She had one goal: Protect the QBR at all costs. She made her team aware of just how critical the QBR (communication with clients) was. She even put up a giant peace sign in her office as a visual reminder for all that the QBR is to bring tranquility, understanding, and peace of mind to their clients. She then transferred non-QBR work away from herself and to her assistant, employees, and contractors.

She pushed decisions down to her employees. And then she focused on doing the QBR work. And when she identified the last big distraction from doing the QBR work — her personal management of a large albeit problem client who could never be satisfied—she fired them.

Three months later, I checked in with Cyndi. “I can’t believe it,” she said. “We are growing faster than ever, and the business is running smoothly. And guess what?”

“I’m all ears, sister.”

“Last week, I gardened. All weekend.”

Cyndi loves to garden. It’s her passion, and because she was so overwhelmed by her business, she had lost that. Now, with her focus on streamlining, Cyndi got her weekends back. She got her life back, and her business is thriving.


Excerpted from Clockwork: Design Your Business to Run Itself by Mike Michalowicz with permission of Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © Mike Michalowicz, 2018.