I recently spent some time with a gorgeous creative woman who was starting her own business for the first time, but knew nothing about running a business. We were going through the fundamentals of what she would need to do. Right at the end of our time, she asks me: “When will I know if my business will work out?”
With not enough time to give her a satisfactory answer, I suggested that it’s a bumpy road, and that doubt and worry will always be there, but our resilience and perseverance will be what gets us through.
So this article is intended to provide a bit more of a substantial answer. It’s such a loaded question, there are countless considerations to take into account, and so many things depend on so many things. I have organised the bulk of these considerations into 5 areas:
- Planning and Implementation
- Structure and Discipline
Before I get into each one, I want to make it crystal clear that there are no guarantees in business. There is no such thing as a perfect formula to ensure your success. This is because every person is unique, every business is unique, and the circumstances around yours could be entirely different to the circumstances of your best friend’s business next door. Yet, there are lots of success stories. Many ambitious and adventurous souls have found great success in starting their own business.
But while there may be no guarantees in business, or life, or anything in fact, there are many things you can do to stack the odds in your favour. The first one is: Ditch the excuses. If you are given good advice to do something, and your response is something like: “But that won’t work for me” or “I can’t do that because…..” then you’ve already shot yourself in the foot, cut yourself off at the knees, or whatever the appropriate saying is here. If you really want to make your business work, you HAVE to find a way to do what needs to be done, or it just won’t work. Get out now while you still can.
As important as it is to follow your dream, you need to be realistic. Your idea has to be viable, and the only way to know if it is or not is to get validation. Get proof that enough people in the marketplace will find your business valuable to them. Every sale is a solution to a problem. Determine what problem you are solving, and how many people have that problem. Is it a problem that is big enough and important enough that they will give you their money to fix it? Will your solution work for them? Remember the old saying that necessity is the mother of invention? Everything that’s been invented was the result of trying to find a solution to a problem. If you can prove that there is a genuine need for your product or service, and that enough people will happily give you their money to get your product or service to make your business profitable, then trust the process, rest easy, and just do all the things you need to do to make it happen. It’s not always an easy answer to get. How do you know? Step one, really, is get out and talk to people. Listen to what they say, and learn to read between the lines of what they are saying to hear what they really mean.
The bumpy road to business success is indeed very bumpy. Your belief in yourself, your idea, your vision, and your plan needs to be strong enough to withstand all the challenges you will face. These challenges come in many forms, from not enough customers, to too many customers, to tax office problems, to logistical nightmares, and fighting off the self-doubt that will ALWAYS be there. The ones who make it are the ones who keep going and don’t give up, no matter what.
There will always be doubts and fears. That is our hind brain’s defence system trying to protect us from risks, but we can override that. Use your conscious brain to quiet those fears, because you know that making this business work will give you an infinite amount of satisfaction, sense of accomplishment, and belief in yourself.
You can bolster your self-belief by focusing on your conviction. How convinced are you that your business will help people? That it will solve their problem? When you are feeling fragile, go back to why you decided to start this business in the first place. When your conviction is strong, it will come through in everything you do. Your confidence and enthusiasm will become infectious, and your customers will believe in you too.
Why is it that it’s so hard to find a good blacksmith these days? Because times change, my friend, times change! If you were a blacksmith during the industrial revolution, I wonder if you would have seen the writing all the wall? More recently, how did photograph companies respond to the introduction of digital cameras? If you don’t respond to change, you WILL get left behind.
This is particularly critical when you’re starting a business. You may have decided in your thoroughly well-prepared business plan that you sell red widgets. You get out into the marketplace and find that people want blue widgets. What do you do? Try to convince them that red is better than blue? Or would you just start making them blue?
I once heard of a retail shop owner who was getting very frustrated with the number of travellers coming into her shop and asking if she sells cool drinks (which she didn’t)… I’ll leave that one out there for you to think about…..
In order to find your place in the market, you really do need to be incredibly responsive to feedback. But maintain your core purpose. It sounds contradictory, but think of it like this:
Focus on the problem you are solving. That is your core. How this happens can look like a hundred different things. You may have decided what your target market is, but your marketing campaigns all attract people from a slightly different niche. Does it change what problem you are solving? No. Should you change your target market? Absolutely.
PLANNING AND IMPLEMENTATION
Every productive thing happens twice. First on a plan, second in real life. This is also true for getting mentally prepared – it happens in your head first, and then in real life. But the focus here is on the planning. Set a course for what result you want to achieve, and the steps it will take to accomplish it. There are times when a step can feel like a really big step – say like setting up a website. It’s not really a big step, you just need to break it down more. Setting up a website is actually more like a collection of 100 steps (or more) so if you try to tackle it all at once, of course you’re going to have trouble with it.
Anything that can’t be done in one session (anywhere between 10 minutes to 2 hours) is really a collection of steps, so break it down into those little individual steps.
This is the key to implementation. A plan is a great thing to have unless you find it hard to actually carry it out. Any time there is any resistance at all to the next required step, try to break it down smaller until it’s a teeny tiny step that offers no resistance at all.
The ONLY solution to doubt, fear, uncertainty, or anything that will put roadblocks and hurdles in your way is: ACTION. Do something about it. So if the action you need to do feels too much, then make it a smaller action. Just make sure you do the action.
STRUCTURE AND DISCIPLINE
As much as I detest big business, there is one thing we can learn from them. Would the biggest retailer in the country be anywhere near as successful as it is if its financial strategy was written on the back of an envelope? Or what if the latest ad missed the newspaper deadline because the Head of Marketing had a lunch date? Would it be OK for the Operations Manager to wake up one morning and decide that he doesn’t feel like scheduling the new orders into the system? Of course not, it’s ridiculous. However, in small business, and especially home-based business – these things happen ALL THE TIME. Is it OK? No, no it’s not. Big business has a culture of structure, deadlines, expectations, and rigorous adherence to them all. If you don’t do your job, you get sacked. This is one thing that small businesses need more of. There is a reason that the big businesses use policies and employment contracts. They work. How important are they in your business? It’s true that it’s on a completely different scale, but somehow, while enjoying the freedom of working for yourself and not having anyone tell you what to do, you may have thrown the baby out with the bath water. That element of being accountable to a boss did serve a purpose. It got the job done. Being given a deadline that feels just a little too soon is a good thing – it gets the job done quicker. Having targets to achieve every month and being expected to work harder every day is a good thing – it gets a better job done. If no one is giving you these expectations, deadlines, and targets, will the job get done? That is self-discipline, to be able to push yourself, demand more of yourself, and hold yourself accountable. This is probably the critical factor in whether you are the right kind of person to run your own business. If you don’t have a strong sense of self-discipline, things just won’t get done.
So if you are starting up your own business, and you worry if you’re putting all your time, effort, money and dreams into something that may not work, then measure yourself and your business against these 5 factors. If you rate well in all – take courage. It’s OK, you will get there. The actual moment of recognising that your business is a success is unique to you. What does that look like to you? How will you know when you’ve achieved it?
I highly recommend setting a milestone target – not too far out of reach – to work towards. Business success is a journey, not a destination. There is no end point, it’s a continuation of milestones, and each one should be celebrated and cherished.
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