Most failed businesses don't die – they commit suicide.
I am watching an aquaintace of mine (let's call him Stewart) commit business suicide right now. And it's slow, agonizing business suicide, inflicting the maximum amount of pain and agony in the process.
Of course, Stewart doesn't see it that way.
“It's a tough economy,” he says to me.
At another time, he may say, “The government makes it impossible for the little guy to succeed.”
Stewart has a collection of exuses for his business struggles. When I try to ecourage him to make some changes in how he does business, or when I suggest tactics he might employ to turn his business around, he is extraordinarily resistant. Most people are, I find.
I think the reason is: most people are afraid.
They are afraid that if they try something different, it might not work.
They are afraid if they invest in a training or a mastermind group they might be wasting their money.
In fact this kind of fear is at the root of what I believe to be the 5 most common failings that will eventually kill your business.
If you are struggling in business right now, it is vital that you make sure these poisonous failings are not part of your daily diet. You can stop the poison from seeping into the bloodstream of your life and your business.
Let's examine the 5 failings, the fear at their root, and the truth that will set you free.
- Failing to measure and track your marketing. An airplane pilot would never dream of making a flight without his tracking instruments that tell him exactly where he is oriented, where he is headed, his altitude, speed, etc. Failing to know this information will prove deadly to a pilot (and his passengers). Business people, especially small entrepreneurs, are often unwilling to invest money in tracking tools, advertising testing systems, etc. Just like an airplane without the proper instruments, the lack of an accurate “dashboard” can cause your business to crash and burn.
- Failing to grow. This mistake is common for “lifestyle business” owners. I have nothing against lifestyle businesses; I operate one. But often this term is used as a mask for something different. For many people, “lifestyle business” is code for, “I'm lazy, and even though I know I have an assignment and value to deliver to the world, I'm not going to do it. It seems like too much work.” The problem is, in business as in life, there is no such thing as homeostasis. You are either growing, or you are dying. If your business is not growing, it is on its way out.
- Failing to protect your confidence. I learned this lesson from my friend Jeff Walker. An entrepreneur's greatest asset, the one asset with which he cannot survive in the world of business, is his or her confidence. If you as an entrepreneur allow other people to undermine your confidence, you will fail.If you listen to the voices that tell you, “that program will never work”, “that's too risky”, “you shouldn't work so hard”, “why would you take a risk like this, when there's a much safer route”… If you let these voices undermine your confidence, you're doomed. Only those of us who are truly entrepreneurial in spirit have the power of belief in our ideas. The more powerful our ideas, the more likely they will succeed, the more revolutionary they can be, the more promise of profit they bring, the more you will find the Muggles around you attempting to stop you from doing whatever you have set your mind to. They work very hard, these Muggles (ordinary people), to get you to sit down and shut up.Why? Because they are intimidated by these magical beings, these Wizards called Entrepreneurs. They are intimidated by you.
And when Muggles are around Wizards, they are forced to examine their own beliefs and achievements (or lack thereof). There are two ways to build your self-esteem and confidence: one is to dream, believe, and achieve – to create magic. The other is to be a Muggle, and tear down Wizards so so they don't make you look bad by comparison.
Don't be a Muggle, and don't be weighed down by them. Be a Wizard, and just remember that the Muggles in your life depend on you for their livelihood, their jobs, and their financial security.
- Failing to be the leader. As an entrepreneur, leadership is not optional. It is not something you can outsource to someone else. While you should listen to the advice of others, and carefully consider it, the ultimate decision is yours.
If you ever watched Star Trek: The Next Generation, think about the leadership style of Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Whenever there was a crisis, Captain Picard would call his executive team into the conference room. He would present the problem or the idea, he would carefully listen to the counsel of his leadership team, and then with alacrity and confidence he would make his decision. That decision may or may not have been in accordance with the advice he was received from his team. In fact, his decisions were often unpopular with those who advised him. But he was the Captain of the ship, and once he had decided, his team understood that it was now their job to carry out his decision was enthusiasm. They could dissent behind closed doors, voice their opinion as strongly as they wished, and he would hear it. But ultimately, the responsibility for the safety of the crew and ship, the responsibility for the success of the mission, rested with one man: the Captain.Surround yourself with a good leadership team, but never forget you are the Captain. And don't let them forget it, either. A business is not a democracy. It is much more like a ship; you may employ a participative management style, but ultimately you are in command.
- Failing to invest and re-invest. My company just completed a very successful product launch. This brought us a windfall profit. What will we do with that profit? Most of it will be re-invested in the business, to fuel further growth. This is the nature of healthy business. Remember, you're either growing or you're dying. So don't be hesitant to invest in the things that you know will grow your business: new equipment, new staff, advertising, marketing initiatives, etc. If every time you make a profit you stash the money away because you fear the future, you will be like the wicked servant in the Parable of the Talents:
“For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property.To one he gave five talents (NOTE: a ‘talent' was a monetary unit worth about twenty years' wages for a laborer), to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master's money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”
One point of this story: invest what you have been given to steward, and you will be rewarded as the “good and faithful servant.”
Review this list of The 5 Failings carefully, and honestly assess which of these mistakes you might be making right now. If you recognize you are making one (or several) of them, don't get into guilt or self-condemnation, which only leads to victim thinking. Just take immediate action to correct the mistake.
One last point to consider… this is not something you should do gradually, in “baby steps”. These mistakes are poison for your business, and for your soul as an Entrepreneur. Trying to slowly wean yourself from the mistakes is like saying, “I know that drinking this arsenic every day will kill me, but what I'm going to do is drink a little bit less of it and try to control my intake of the poison.”
The result is the poison builds up over time, accumulates in the body (or the business), and then one day, it is too late to reverse the process. Death is inevitable and imminent.
Stop taking the poison. Right now. Cold turkey.
Get your business healthy.
And get off the suicide poison drip.
Question: which of the 5 failings are you engaged in currently, and what will you do about it, starting right now?