Is your business stuck in a rut and you can't seem to get out of it, no matter how hard you try?
It seems like the harder you push, the more money you spend…..you just can't seem to push the business forward.
It's not the business that's stuck, it's you.
For small business owners, you and your business are tightly intertwined. Your attitude, energy and perseverance has a direct impact on the success of your business.
If you feel optimistic and full of energy, your business and employees will feel it. If you're stressed out and depressed, they will feel that as well. You're the captain of this ship and you decide where it goes, for better or for worse.
When You Are Stuck
All business owners get stuck. Sometimes it's easy to pull yourself out of it, other times it's like trying to get out of quick sand, the harder you try, the deeper you sink.
That's usually when that lingering feeling of panic and hopelessness starts to sink in.
The most important thing is to recognize that you are stuck and to know that it's something that happens to all of us. Before you go and try and roll that boulder up the hill, take a minute and breathe.
When I was in the NYC fire department (seems like a lifetime ago) we did a lot of training. Probably about 50 hours of training for every hour of actual firefighting. When the stakes are high, you can never have enough training.
When you're inside a burning building, it's a surreal event. It's pitch black, you wouldn't be able to see your finger even if you poked yourself in the eye with it. You're wearing an oxygen tank, so the only sound you hear is your own breathing, just like Darth Vader in Star Wars. You can feel heat coming through your bunker gear (firefighter clothing), knowing that if you didn't have this gear on, you're body would fry like an egg.
As a firefighter, you're trained for this. You know what your job is and what you need to do.
Everything is cool until you get lost.
Getting lost inside a burning building is scary. You've lost your sense of direction, you can't see a thing and the only thing you can hear is your own breathing…..which is getting faster.
You also know that with every breathe you take, you're oxygen tank is getting lower.
At this point it's easy to start to panic. Especially when conditions are rapidly deteriorating.
When this happens, that mask on your face feels like someone is trying to smother you with a pillow. The natural instinct is to pull of your mask so you can breathe air and get that suffocating feeling off of you.
But a firefighter knows if they do this they will die.
The super heated gases in the air will fry your lungs on the first breathe. If that doesn't kill you instantly, the carbon monoxide will.
When a firefighter gets lost and panic sets in, the first thing they are trained to do is not to try and escape, or yell for help.
When a firefighter realizes they are lost, they stop what they are doing and breathe.
They're trained to stop, get their shit together……and then figure out how they're going to get out of their predicament.
Stop and Breathe
When you're lost, the worst thing you can do is keep moving.
When you recognize you've lost your way, the best thing you can do is to stop what you're doing and breathe.
Most of us business owners, when we feel lost, we try and push harder and harder, hoping to break out of the rut we're in. We put in more hours, we start stressing out over everything and we start throwing money at marketing initiatives hoping that'll be the cure.
It's panic mode, and if you don't stop and pull yourself out of the situation, you'll be running in that mouse wheel until you tire out and collapse.
Instead of more work and more hours, it's time to step back, regroup and think logically about how you and your business are going to get out of this.
So What Do You Do?
After you've stepped back, recognized that your business is stuck and you're the only person that can get it unstuck, it's time to put together a plan of action.
When a firefighter gets lost, they will stop and backtrack in their mind to see at what point things went south for them. Look back and reflect on what got you into this rut in the first place. Have you been distracted? Have you cut back too much on marketing because cash flow is tight? Are you feeling stressed out and depressed? Is the customer service starting to falter because you're not training and mentoring your employees like you used to?
Spend the time necessary to identify the cause of the this stagnation before you try and get yourself out of it. You want to be like traditional medicine where you treat the cause of the problem, not like modern medicine where you only treat the symptoms.
Once you've identified what's been keeping you from moving your business forward, you can start putting together a plan to get you back on the right track. Figure out what resources you will need to get you back on track. This could be better training, a better attitude, smarter marketing or maybe you're just overwhelmed and you need a break so you can come back refreshed and ready to take on the world again.
Whatever it is, put together very specific action steps on how you will get out of this stagnant state. Start with small steps and gradually work onto bigger ones. A first step might be to send a newsletter out to your customers because you haven't done so in a long time, or to take your employees out for lunch because you don't remember the last time you did.
You can do all of the reflecting and planning you want, but if you don't take action and change the course of the ship, it's all a waste of time.
Most non-business owners think that the value is in the idea, where most business owners know that execution is where the rubber meets the road. Taking action is what's going to pull you out of that rut, not talking about it.
Stop saying and start doing, or as Ben Franklin said, “Well done is better than well said”.
Breathe, Then Do
You've stopped and stepped back from the situation. You've identified the cause of your stagnation. You've developed a plan to get you out of it. And you've taken your first action steps free yourself from it.
Congratulations, you're no longer stuck.
It'll happen again, it always does. But when it does, let your training kick in and breathe.