Trust me, I’m lying when I tell you that having your own business is super good fun, all of the time. But #blessed #lyfegoals #winning reign supreme, so I’m morally obligated to counter the prevalent propaganda with some hard home truths.
While growing your business in this dumpster fire of a year might seem preposterous for some, other business owners have experienced monumental growth. If you’d like to grow your business, or you’re in the grips of agonising growing pains, this one’s for you.
Growth hits a ceiling
So let’s say you’ve done your profit plan, you have premium-priced offerings, people are buying, and things are going swimmingly. Growth typically has a ceiling, but not for reasons you might anticipate.
Understanding where the points of stress are in a business is critical to get through a period of fast growth before things implode.
Common problems with fast growth include:
- Bottlenecks by owners or managers
The business owner, or perhaps a well-meaning but problematic manager, is often the major bottleneck to growth, whereby too many decisions are held up for review and approval.
- Owner burnout
It’s a dirty secret that many successful business owners are at the verge of burnout, often preceded by long-term, low-level anxiety or depression. Burnout isn’t necessary to growth!
- Lack of systems and documentation
Way too many small businesses are suffering from unnecessary chaos due to a lack of standard operating procedures (SOPs) and systematisation. It’s dull as dishwater, but somebody’s got to do it.
- Lack of support and people
Business owners that don’t hire quickly enough are often burdened by an impossible pile of things to do.
- Poisonous culture
A healthy company culture is crucial to people flourishing and reduces the ‘burn and churn’ of low retention and accompanying expense of recruitment and training.
Self-care is crucial
Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it does buy holidays and better yet, massages on holidays. Jokes aside, self-care is about far more than just enjoying yourself (though I’m a big fan of this). Self-care includes how you speak to yourself, how you spend your time (not just your time ‘off’), how you rest, and how you approach challenges.
Self-care involves community care – which includes seeing yourself within the broader systems in which you operate and how the whole influences the parts.
Your family is your immediate community. As your business grows, your identity will evolve, and your romantic relationship must grow too to encompass this changing dynamic.
If your stress increases, your self-care activities must too, and you’ll need to keep experimenting as some things that used to work well may not be so effective.
Revenue is not profit
Another problem I see over and again is the growth of revenue at the expense of profit. When you’re working from your dining table, relying heavily on word-of-mouth referrals and networking, your expenses are minimal and your revenue-to-profit ratio is high.
As you invest in marketing, software, systems, support, advertising, etc, to assist your growth, your revenue-to-profit ratio will decrease.
Countless businesses of all sizes are operating on a razor-thin profit margin, leaving little-to-no wiggle room for unforeseen circumstances (global pandemic, anyone?)
You need to keep a close eye on profit margins, have a buffer of cash, and ensure that you’re making smart money decisions to spend or not to spend.
Your most important skill
As a business owner, your most important skill to cultivate is decision-making, and this is based on discernment. You can’t learn discernment in a book, on a course or from a coach.
Discernment is a daily practice, taken moment to moment, utilised within each hour, and at the beginning and the end of each day. Part of discernment involves understanding which decisions should be quick and easy, which need more time to consider, and which can be given to others.
Starting a business involves making precisely 429 decisions every week, and this doesn’t slow down as you grow, though these become far more interesting as well as more painful.
As growing business owners, we need to actively develop our character, using self-insight to see how our history plays out in the present.
Let’s say, for example, there are three business owners who’ve experienced the same trauma. One is unsympathetic towards others who appear to be suffering from something similar. One is easily triggered by others, and relives their trauma, necessitating significant time off. And the third is more sympathetic and gives more leeway than they otherwise would or should. Same life experience – three different responses.
Self-insight enables us to see how our raw edges might be affecting those around us as well as ourselves. Using the twin titans of kindness and compassion, we can lovingly develop our characters in order to bring out the best in others while also ensuring that our work is personally meaningful and fulfilling.
Growth can be easy
The final surprising truth about growth is that it can be far easier and far simpler than you may appreciate. Us humans, funny creatures that we are, have a tendency to overcomplicate things.
When I review the growth spurts I’ve had over the last 12 years in business, they were frequently the result of fairly simple, straightforward changes.
Putting most of my pricing on my website and asking for 50% or 100% upfront, rather than writing endless digital marketing quotes and charging my services by the hour, billing in arrears, was critical. Not only did my growth and profit rise substantially, but my stress and money worries also halved overnight.
Charging more, and particularly creating rules for myself around what jobs were too small to quote for, again helped to leapfrog growth and profit while reducing stress.
Creating assets to leverage – such as my Hustle & Heart program and short courses – enabled me to disconnect my time from making money. Neither of these were easy to create, but they were made easier by the years I’d spent preparing.
Finally, embracing no – something I still struggle with – has been absolutely pivotal. No and yes are two sides of the same coin. Our aversion to using no is the source of much grief and stress. Ghosting is neither kind, clear, nor character-building.
The surprising truth about growth is that it doesn’t need to involve complications. Sometimes removing or reducing complications – especially those that our minds construct – is the more direct road to rapid business growth.