Do you feel like you're getting nowhere with your business? Have you lost momentum and now feel like you're just spinning your wheels?
In your first year or two of business, the enthusiasm is high, optimism is at its peak, and you can overcome most obstacles with sheer will. That first year is awesome, scary and a roller coaster ride that non-entrepreneurs will never experience.
But what happens after the momentum fades, your new business shine fades, and the only thing you are left with is the day to day work of the business?
Welcome to the messy middle.
The messy middle is that part in your businesses life where you need to work on the day to day activities of your business. Things you can't ignore (or make excuses for) once you are out of that startup phase. It's the part where you actually turn your business into an actual business, one that will live on for many years to come.
The messy middle is where you figure out how to manage people, create processes, track and manage finances and learn how to refine your marketing as your startup marketing budget is long gone. Entrepreneurs hate this part of the business, the part where you need to figure out how to make your business work for the long haul. The term, “Serial Entrepreneur” simply means a person who loves to create and start businesses but hates running them.
Most small businesses fail within the first 5 years. Almost none fail in the startup phase, where you have the funds and the will to weather the storm. Most small businesses fail when they run out of money before they can figure out how to make their business work. And at that point, when the money runs out, they also lose the will to carry on.
Businesses that succeed or fail all go through this messy middle phase. The difference is that successful businesses learn how to make their businesses work before they run out of money, or the will to go on. If you have that “serial entrepreneur” streak in you, you may want to go out and hire a counterpart that loves to get mired in the details of everyday business activities.
I've been in this situation a few times in my life, where I didn't know if the business (or myself) would make it. A few times the business didn't make it, a few other times it did and eventually thrived. I also know dozens of entrepreneurs who have been there, sometimes the business fails, other times it lives. I have a few friends that have incredibly successful businesses, both in monetary terms and personal satisfaction, all of them at some point had some serious doubts about their business and themselves.
“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” – Paulo Coelho
So what's the difference between businesses that fail and ones that thrive? It's hard to tell the difference in those early years, but there are some key areas that successful business owners seem to get right eventually.
From my experience as a business owner and working with lots of other business owners over the years, there are a few skills and mindsets that separate successful business owners with ones who will eventually have to close shop. You can get away with these when you are starting up and still trying to figure things out, but eventually you will have to face them or risk hitting a wall that your business may not be able to overcome.
You have your hand in every aspect of your business
Ever hear of whack a mole? That's you and your business if you keep your finger in every pie your business makes. It's good in the beginning as you need to understand how things work before you can delegate, but if you are still doing this 2-3 years down the line and can't trust/train others to take on non-essential roles, your days are numbered. You can't grow your business when you are the one doing everything and cannot properly manage others, eventually you will hit a wall that you can't overcome without other people. This is also the number one reason for burnout, you become so overwhelmed doing things you don't want to that you begin to hate your business.
As a business owner you should be able to go on a vacation or at least take a weekend off once in awhile, you can only do that if you can entrust others to run the day to day activities of your business.
The most important things in business are marketing, sales and customer service/retention. That should be your world and you should let others take care of everything else.
“If your business depends on you, you don’t own a business—you have a job. And it’s the worst job in the world because you’re working for a lunatic!”
You refuse to spend money on marketing
If you refuse to spend money on your marketing efforts, you are doomed. You can get away with sweat equity, networking and doing everything that involves time but not money, but eventually you will reach your limits as these are non-scalable marketing activities that don't let you generate business on demand. You need to spend money to make.
As you grow your business, your time will become very valuable and you will need to figure out marketing strategies that don't involve you spending all of your time trying to grow your social media networks, attending networking events and other time-consuming activities that are stopping you from growing your business. While these activities may be important, you will see that successful business owners are very selective about how they spend their time and money. Especially, if it means they can have more of their time back to concentrate on growing their business.
A common response I get from business owners when I mention a specific marketing tactic like Google Adwords or SEO is, “___ Doesn't work, I tried it before”. I usually respond that yes, it doesn't work for you but works wonderfully for tens of thousands of other businesses. Maybe it's not the marketing platform but the way you are using it.
Customers are the lifeblood of any business and you need to find a reliable and consistent way to generate more of them or your business will stagnate and slowly start the road to failure.
You can never find good employees
You may find a lemon once in awhile, but if every employee you hire is terrible, the problem is you, not them. Your job when hiring is to interview, hire, train and mentor your employees. If you miss any of these or do them poorly, you will ultimately have sub-par employees. But it's your fault, you expected an off the shelf ace employee. You hire for talents and personality and you train for skills. You need to keep people motivated and inspired to work for you.
You will reach a point in your business where you will need others to help you grow. You can't do everything forever. Business owners that do not know how to hire and manage good people, will eventually implode as it creates an expensive and time-consuming cycle of revolving employees. This leads to frustration for the business owner and poor service for your customers. Plus, you'll never be able to take a day off and become resentful towards your business because of it.
Charles M. Schwab of Bethlehem Steele and right-hand man of Andrew Carnegie, credited all of this success to his ability to create enthusiasm among the people around him. He was also paid 1 million dollars a year by Andrew Carnegie to run his steel operations at a time when most men were lucky to earn a few hundred dollars a year.
You're not a people person
Everyone business has a customer, if you don't like interacting with people or collaborating with others, then it will eventually show and reflect on your business. And you should look at your employees as customers and treat them with the same care and respect. If you don't enjoy being around people or you get frustrated easily with others, it'll be difficult to grow a successful business. Customers and employees won't want to be around someone who doesn't want to be around them.
You can probably see a theme in this article, that you need a team of people to help grow your business and to allow you to concentrate on the important aspects of your business. These people may be employees, contractors peers,or 3rd party vendors but you will need to work with them all in order to grow your business.
Dale Carnegie's classic, “How To Win Friends and Influence People”, is a must-read for every business owner.
You're not excited about your business
You may not love the actual product or service you offer, but you should love the business itself. I know many business owners who aren't necessarily passionate about the product or service they offer, but they are passionate about growing a business, serving others and the satisfaction that comes from building a successful business.
What makes a business exciting are the possibilities. If you aren't excited about that, then maybe you are in the wrong business or maybe owning your own business isn't for you, there is nothing wrong with that. When you are in that “Messy Middle” of your business, the only thing that is left is the work itself, so if you don't find the work and possibilities exciting and fulfilling, then what's the point?
Whether you have your own business or work for someone else, who wants to spend 30-40 years doing something they don't enjoy? If you don't like your business, you have a job, not a fulfilling business.
What road are you on?
You may be able to get away with one of the above and still have a successful business, but if you start identifying with a few of the above points, then maybe it is time to pause and reflect on your business and where it's headed. We all hit bumps in the road, sometimes driving straight into ditches, but if you care about your business and care enough to grow yourself personally to improve along with it, it'll make your life as a business owner much more fulfilling.
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