Are you a Slave to your business?

trapped2  photo by remuz

It didn’t start out this way. 

When you first started your business you had a dream, it was exciting…maybe even fun!  Sure there was a lot of hard work, but you can still remember the thrill of your first clients, cashing your first check and the quiet satisfaction of delivering on a job well done.  Unfortunately that seems like a long time ago.  Now you feel more like a caged animal…trapped by a business that demands all of your time and energy and doesn’t give much back in return.

You’re not alone – according to a recent study, only 40% of small business owners took a vacation last year – some because of lack of money, but many of them because they can’t physically be away from their business for any length of time!  You’re past the point when running harder means you go farther and faster – now running faster only makes the wheel in the cage spin harder!

Are you a slave to your business?  Here are some surefire ways to tell and more importantly what it takes to escape that slavery.

How to tell when you’re officially ‘trapped’

Never Ending Long Hours – As a business owner, you’re going to work hard, but you’re at least a couple years into it and the hours are getting worse with no signs of relief.

Gerbil Wheel Syndrome – Running harder doesn’t cause a lift in the business…or if you have to run just to maintain what you’ve got.

Touch Everything – Your business requires you personally to make every significant decision…nothing gets done without you involved,

No Practical Plan Forward – Planning on the lottery, or landing a huge and unrealistic client to break you out of the rut?  You spend all your time fighting the day to day fires without a strategic plan.

Stuck with Status Quo – You’ve stopped asking ‘what if’, you’re not proactively looking for better ideas…you hear yourself saying defensively “That’s how we’ve always done things”

There are lots of other potential symptoms but in general it can be summed up as ‘a strong feeling that you’re out of choices’…you know what you’ve got isn’t working but there’s no real options and the only thing to do is keep working harder and start it all over again tomorrow.

What can you do about it?

The good news is that most businesses can be saved – but you’ve got to break the cycle if you want different results – here are some ideas of where you can get started on making a change!

1. Get a candid review of your business model.

A big part of the problem may be the fundamental design of the business – does your business scale?  Are you strictly trading your time for money?  Can you get any leverage…with other people’s time or can you develop other streams of revenue?

It may be difficult for you to really look at your business in an honest way – enlist a business savvy friend (maybe even a Business Coach?) and have them give you some perspective.

2. Get clear on where you’re going

Assuming your current situation is NOT what you really want, then you must take the time to paint a better picture of the future.  Try projecting out 3 years to a future that’s attractive to you.  How are you spending your time in the business?  What’s the revenue and profitability like?  What’s your client base?  What’s different from today?  Without a clear picture / goal there’s no way to move in the right direction.

3. Get clear on your strengths

Right now you’re probably doing everything…or at least involved in everything.  However if you want to break free, you’ll need to focus on your strengths and let other people do things that aren’t a strength or that you don’t like doing!  The first step is to really understand where your talents are best used in this great business of the future that you’re planning.

4. Lay out an Organizational Accountability Chart

This is more than just an org chart.  Develop a fairly simple (but complete) breakdown of all the roles and responsibilities in your business and outline who owns those boxes on the chart.  Right now, your name is probably in most places…but that becomes a great starting point for planning what things could look like in the future.  Start with today, but also look at the next phase…what could you step away from that would free up your time and focus?

If you’re interested in learning more about this idea (and how to do it) – Contact us for a short whitepaper on creating this kind of planning tool.

5. Identify Opportunities to automate, systematize and delegate

In addition to your roles and responsibilities, you also need to build an inventory of your major business processes (the things you do to run your business).  From that inventory, which of those processes take up a big chunk of time or is painful? 

Are you spending 2-3 days a month on bookkeeping and invoicing your clients?  How could you improve that process?  Could you hire someone to do it for you?  (I know money is an issue, but if you had 2 extra days to prospect and sell…I’m pretty sure you’d bring in more revenue).

Identify the top 2 or 3 process candidates and figure out what it would take to streamline them or get them off your plate.

6. Take action…focused, planned and systematic action to make things better

Here’s the part where things generally fall apart.  Things are painful enough to drive you to come up with some projects, some initiatives that you know would help in the long run, but you can’t find the time or the focus to actually get them done!  Or maybe you just don’t know where to start or how to get started.  By the way – this is absolutely what Coaching is best at…helping you get things done.  The top recommendation is to get some help to make things happen.  However If you need to do it yourself, then lay out a reasonable plan, allocate time every week to move that plan forward, find a way to stay accountable and step by step you will make progress.

What do you need to do?

The business closure rate in the US is right around 50% within the first 4 years of being in business.  Most of the businesses that shut down had viable products and services, many were making money and most had business owners who were competent.  But they couldn’t figure out how to stop being a slave to their business! And without that breakthrough they eventually had to throw the towel in…it’s not a sustainable approach in the long run. 

You can break the cycle for your business…but you have to be ready to make some changes.

What about you?  Do you own your business or is it owning you?  I’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue – drop me a line or comment below.

Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach