5 Things You Need to Climb Your Business Mountain…!
You’ve likely heard the saying; “You can’t see the forest for the trees.” – this can be especially true for business owners and entrepreneurs. Starting out, You should focus in on the trees (the details of your product / service and customer interactions) in order to get your business up and running, but you can stay there. Over time not being able to see the whole forest causes all sorts of problems.
These kinds of mental models can often help you take a fresh look at situations. And that got me to thinking about expanding the analogy (or is it a metaphor?) above. Here’s the idea – starting and growing your business is a journey up a forested mountain…
Climbing your business mountain…
Imagine that you are in the middle of a forest with mountains all around you (think National Park wilderness type of forest). Your goal as a business owner is to traverse the forest and climb your mountain, where the views are excellent, the air is clean and you will have a beautiful place to live.
Hopefully you’re excited about where you want to go – now we have to figure out how you’re going to get there.
Your business plan is your map…
That map could be the equivalent of a crayon pirates map with an X marking the treasure – essentially a goal and maybe some really high level directions.
Or your map could be the equivalent of an online, scalable google maps kind of thing, with a huge amount of detail, the ability to zoom in and get super specific on what’s coming up or to zoom out and really plan your route. That idea sounds great, but the reality is that when you’re starting your business you don’t have access to a lot of facts. Instead you have opinions, thoughts and rough ideas. Which means building a detailed a map on faulty data results in you trying to navigate Yellowstone with all of the information coming from Yosemite.
A better option is a simple, hand drawn map that has the important ideas (your long term goal, intermediate targets, who you’re selling to, why it will work, the kinds of financials you’re looking for, etc.) but all stated in simple, concise ways. Ideally your business plan shouldn’t take more than a couple of pages – which makes it useful and easy to update as you go. Check out this post – Strategic Planning, how far can you see?
On a related note, as part of that planning process you need to decide what kind of mountain you want to climb. Are you good with climbing the local mountain that gives you a great view of your city? Or are you looking to climb a peak like McKinley or Everest and make your mark on a much bigger audience? Or maybe you start with a smaller mountain to prove things out and then move on to bigger things…? Whatever the case, having a clear idea of what you want to climb drives a lot of other things in your plan so it’s important to get that right up front.
Your Business Model determines your type of transportation…
As you start your journey, are you hiking? (Maybe in bare feet?). Are you riding a horse? Are you on some kind of 4-wheel ATV or a luxury SUV?
Your options are determined by your business model. A strong business model with a clear, straightforward way of making money consistently will put you in an SUV – which will let you go much faster and farther. Alternatively, if you aren’t sure how you’re making money, or if you don’t have a way to capture repeat sales or, better yet, recurring sales (think monthly fees), then you’re going to be walking.
Walking still works, you can end up in a successful location but it’s going to take longer and it’s a lot harder. On the plus side, it can be a great way to start quickly and it’s an inexpensive way to learn your way around the forest. You can always upgrade to a horse or a vehicle later.
As an extension of this idea, your profits are the fuel for whatever vehicle / transportation you’re using. You should be starting with a full tank (start-up capital) but without profits coming in, you will start running out of gas and at some point that will completely stop you – which is why solid profits are so important.
The Marketplace is the path that you’ll be taking…
Is there strong demand for whatever you’re selling? Are people lining up to buy what you’ve got or do you have to go find them? A strong market fit for your product (or service) is the equivalent of a paved path through the woods. It’s easy, clear and you can go fast.
Searching for buyers and / or going through great lengths to sell them on your stuff is the equivalent of trying to get through the forest without any path at all. You’re using a machete to hack through the brush and you’re lucky to make it over the next ridge in an hour. It’s a really tough way to go.
Pivoting is the equivalent of deciding to find a new, better path that’s easier to climb. It might lead you to a different mountain or it might be a better path to the same mountain, but if you’re stuck in the woods and not making progress, it could be time to look for a better path.
Your team determines your options and your overall horsepower…
Most businesses start out with just the owner, or maybe a very small team – which is fine when you’re still in the relatively flat forest. Your single SUV (or horse or hiking boots) works perfectly well to keep you moving forward and it’s a practical, cost-efficient way of proving out your path and your business model.
But as you start to climb into the more mountainous part of your journey you’re going to need more horsepower to get up the steeper hills and eventually it’s likely that you’ll hit a cliff (or a river) that you can’t get past on your own. That’s where your team comes into play. By having people along side you who can take responsibility, you add horsepower and capabilities to your business. Your team can help you climb the next cliff or help you build a bridge to get over a river.
If you’re the type of business owner that isn’t comfortable delegating or doesn’t have a strong team around, then you’re going to be stuck with whatever you can do (mostly) on your own with just your 24 hours in a day – Great Leadership starts with letting go… You can still make progress on your own, but it will be slower, more difficult and you will ultimately cap your growth potential.
As an extension of this idea, when you have the wrong person on your team – someone who doesn’t fit, has a bad attitude or just isn’t very good at their job, it’s the equivalent of dragging them behind you as you attempt to climb this mountain. And when you cut them loose, you’ll be amazed at how much easier it is to make progress…!
Your processes are the Gear and Tools you have with you…
Have you ever tried to start a fire without matches? You can use flint and steel, or maybe some kind of magnifying glass to get a spark going, but without some kind of tool, it’s very difficult.
Likewise, you can sleep outside without a sleeping bag or a tent, but you better hope it’s nice weather, minimal critters and even if all of that’s true, you’re not going to get much sleep.
The processes and procedures in your business are like the gear you would want take on your mountain climbing journey. Initially you can do without them but not having a documented process (a consistent, proven way of doing things) will make things harder and eventually will cause problems. As you start climbing the steeper parts of the mountain (have more clients, revenue, employees, complexity) it becomes even more important that everyone knows what they’re doing.
Business Failures happen for lots of reasons… but often because owners are just tired…
A journey through the wilderness isn’t ever going to be easy – as an entrepreneur or business owner you already know that. Your business could hit a wall that can’t be climbed without significant new help (additional capital, merger, etc.) which means you might need to set a different goal or try to find that help.
Your journey could be hit by a natural disaster (flood, earthquake, fire, etc.) – for a lot of businesses that’s the equivalent of what happened with Covid. You might have been on a great paved path that just suddenly ended (market closed down). Maybe you can see the path start up in the distance, but it’s going to take a lot of effort and time to get back to the path.
Or your trip could just be bogged down by bad weather. Imagine hiking for days on end in the rain and cold. At some point you’re likely to decide that it’s just not worth it. Most businesses don’t fail because they don’t have a viable idea, they fail because the grind becomes too much – they don’t have smooth path to walk on, or they don’t have the right vehicle to make the trip easier and worthwhile.
Think about getting a guide…
And finally, as a bit of a shameless plug, your journey will be a lot easier if you have a guide or two. Someone alongside who can help to steer you in the right direction. Strategic advisors, like good accountants, attorneys or Business Coaches are an investment that will cost you some money, but will pay off in a big way as you make your way up the mountain.
What do you think?
Where are you in your business journey? Does this model make sense to you? What am I missing? Does this help you evaluate your challenges? Or is it just a quick fun thought exercise? Whatever the case, I’d love to hear your thoughts – leave us a comment below.
Shawn Kinkade Kansas City Business Coach