Confession: Much of my business success over the past few years came from messing so many things up during the prior years.
My business partners and I have learned much from years of mistakes. Along the way, we figured out a bunch of things that didn’t work. It can be a painful way to grow a business. Many businesses function from making mistakes. But, hopefully, we learn from them and use them to be better business owners.
By far, our biggest mistake as business owners is our inability to accept reality. We spend time wishing away problems or wishing people behaved differently. We wish the economy was better or wish sales and marketing were easier. The amount of time we spend wishing for a different reality is truly amazing. A great example of this was the economic crash of 2008. Many businesses got lost in the fact that it happened and it caused a lot of needless suffering.
Over the years I’ve learned there are several realities business owners need to face if we want to achieve a high level of success and be happy. These aren’t really optional. I take that back. If you’re okay with mediocrity or financial struggle, then these are optional. Otherwise, these business realities need to be embraced.
#1 WE ALWAYS NEED TO BE LEARNING NEW SKILLS
One of the major flaws that keeps a business from performing at its best is when the owner thinks their skills are good enough.
I’ve seen several businesses close because the owners thought their skills were good enough. They felt as if they were already experts and didn’t need to learn new skills. I’ve even had people tell me there was nothing left for them to learn and they knew all they needed to know. That’s just crazy. Your competitors (the good ones, anyway) are always trying to find a way to be better than you.
#2 MOST OF YOUR BUSINESS PROBLEMS ARE CAUSED BY YOU
I received a priceless piece of advice when I left my last real job to start my first business, a medical imaging company. The president of the company I was working for took me aside and said, “The biggest thing I want you to remember is that, whenever you’re having a financial problem, an employee problem, a production problem, or sales problem, you are almost always the real problem.”
He noted that 90% of the time a business is struggling it is because of the owner/president. Of course there can be outside forces at work. But when I adopted the philosophy that I was responsible for every result the business was getting, we did very well.
This is simply one of the realities business owners need to face. It doesn’t make us bad, wrong, or incompetent. It does, however, display our need to always be learning and growing as an owner (see #1).
#3 FEAR AND UNCERTAINTY EXIST AND THERE’S NOTHING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT
Here are a few of the things I’ve heard from people who are struggling with fear and uncertainty:
- If only the economy was better.
- If only people made faster buying decisions
- If I could be sure it would work, I’d do it
- I don’t think I can take the chance
Wishing away fear and uncertainty is a futile exercise. All it does is cause anxiety. It paralyzes us and creates stagnation in a business.
I’ve always found that if you’re not feeling a rather high level of uncertainty, then you’re not really doing anything interesting. Everything is not under control and that’s a good thing. One of my favorite quotes about this comes from racecar driver Mario Andretti, who said, “If everything seems under control, you’re not going fast enough.” It’s true in business as well. The glory is just on the other side of the fear.
#4 YOU NEED A PLAN
I recently saw a T-shirt that read: “You don’t always need a plan. Sometimes you just need guts.” Well, that’s not exactly true. While it is true that creating a highly successful business requires guts and huge amounts of action, you most definitely need a plan.
If you don’t have a plan, how can you measure your performance? How do you know if you’re progressing? How would you know what actions to take?
Not having a plan creates chaos and can be demoralizing to your employees. Yes, plans can change and you may have to pivot. You need the right balance of planning, guts, and action.
#5 TODAY, THERE IS MORE PRESSURE THAN EVER TO PERFORM
In recent years, many things have made it easier than ever for businesses to effectively reach their audiences. The host of tools includes social media, blogs, your website, YouTube, and LinkedIn.
However, these advances have made it more urgent than ever for businesses and business owners to be excellent. People can write online reviews about you. They can engage in competitive intelligence. They can communicate with your clients and prospects.
There’s simply no room for substandard or lazy behaviors in a business if you want to achieve real success. Nearly every business owner I know claims that they are great at customer service. Are you sure? How often do you actually receive excellent customer service?
#6 WORK/LIFE BALANCE IS SOMEWHAT OF A MYTH
I was recently talking to a young business owner who was describing how the business wants to open several branches in different locations. At the same time, he was complaining that things were not moving along fast enough.
But guess what? He had just gotten back from vacation—and it was at least the second time he had been away this year. We all need a life outside of our businesses. But sometimes sacrifices need to be made and you need to give your business all of your effort. You can’t worry about taking Friday afternoons off. This is your business. You need to do what needs to be done.
#7 BEING A GOOD COMMUNICATOR IS ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT KEYS TO SUCCESS
An entrepreneur friend of mine owns a business in a very competitive field. He will often lament the fact that his competitors are doing much better when, according to him, their products are substandard to his.
Often times, we believe that our products, service, or employees will speak for themselves. The difference between my friend and his competitors is that they are far better communicators.
Whether it’s a one-on-one engagement or you’re speaking to the masses, being a clear, effective communicator is a good indicator of future success. You must be able to understand and listen to people and excel at having them understand you. This will change your business almost more than anything else you can do.
#8 YOU NEED TO BE A PRODUCER
You, the owner/president need to be the most amazing producer in every aspect of your business.
As the owner, you need to be the best sales person in the company. As the owner, you need to be the best at execution. That execution includes marketing, sales, operations, and finance.
You need to be the best as a business. You need to continually be creating massive amounts of value for your clients. You need to be better innovators than your competition. As the owner, there’s never any room to sit back and relax. You must monitor your performance and your staff’s performance.
The biggest issue I’ve seen this affect is sales. Often, owners are not great at sales so they’ll hire a sales person. They usually end up going through several because “none of them were any good.” If the owner doesn’t know how to be a great producer, how can they manage and coach a sales person to greatness?
#9 WHEN YOU MANAGE YOUR MIND, YOU MANAGE YOUR LIFE
One of the big things we do in our business is to help business owners get out of their own way. Most of the problems business owners experience is between their ears. Once again, I understand that there are outside forces that can and will affect your business. But more often, a business gets stuck when the owner is overwhelmed or stressed or discouraged.
Fear will always exist (see #3). When it paralyzes you from taking action it becomes a real problem. We need to continuously examine our beliefs, our values, and whether or not our problems are real or created in our mind. If they are real, how are we reacting to them?
Sadly, I’ve seen a number of businesses collapse when the owner lost hope or lost control of their mind management. When you manage your mind, you manage your life.
#10 TALENT AND CONFIDENCE MATTER
When we were writing our book, Your Practice By Design, I interviewed the UConn basketball legend Jennifer Rizzotti, who is now the head coach at the University of Hartford. I asked her if there was a particular quality about a player that would indicate how they were going to perform.
Her response was, “That’s easy, it’s self-confidence. It’s what they believe about themselves.” Jennifer said that when players have the most confidence, they are always more willing to put in the work and become more talented basketball players.
What do you believe about yourself? You can never effectively lie to yourself. If you’re lacking in belief, you’ll never perform at a high level. How can you improve confidence? Grow your skills? Become better every day? Make one slight improvement. Make one better decision. Talent, belief, and confidence all build upon one another exponentially.
Do your best to embrace these business realities. When you do, you’ll achieve a level of success in your business you’ve never experienced.
Learn more about Mike and his entrepreneurial endeavors in our interview: Entrepreneur Co-Founds Business Advisory Startup.