Flying or falling? Is your business taking off?


It takes a lot to get a business started – getting it off the ground is a big deal.  But the challenge doesn’t end there.  Businesses fail a lot early (50% in the first 4 years) but they generally don’t fail because it’s a bad business, but rather because keeping it going is too hard…too stressful.

A recent survey from Bank Of America found that the stress of running a business is 2 to 3 times higher than the stress of managing personal relationships or being a parent and 4 times higher than dealing with personal finances!  That’s a lot of stress!  Your own mileage may vary, but those numbers ring true to me, both on a personal basis and from talking to a lot of business owners.  That kind of stress will drag you and your business down…!

So what causes all of that stress and can anything be done about it?  Totally biased, but here are my top 3 things that drag businesses down (and what you can do about it):

1. Uncertainty

We live in uncertain times…now more than ever.  The economy, politics, the price of tea in China…all of those big picture things that we don’t really have any control over, but have and will continue to impact  your success.  Add on to that, the uncertainty of marketing success, pricing strategy and the fickle nature of customers and you’ve got a ton of uncertainty floating around your business.

What can you do about it?

The first step is to recognize what you have control over…and if you can’t control it, do your best not to worry about it.  Every minute you spend worrying about the economy is a minute wasted.

The second step is to adopt a strategic planning process.  I recommend a straightforward approach of figuring out what your most important projects are and just focusing on the top 5 of those at any one time.  Use 90 day windows to make the process tangible and immediate and be ruthless about staying focused.

Finally, your best weapon against uncertainty is consistency.  As you find things that work, keep doing them consistently.  If you have marketing tactics that work, find the right rhythm for them and do them consistently.  That could be as simple as a monthly newsletter (that actually goes out every month).

Avoiding a victim’s mentality, ruthlessly focusing on what’s most important and consistently driving the right activity will put you into the driver’s seat and minimize your uncertainty.

2. Isolation

Being a business owner can be a lonely thing.  You can’t open up to employees or customers, your spouse is likely tired of hearing it and nothing brings down a social event like serious business discussions.  In short, you’ve got no one to talk to about the important stuff and eventually that stress of being on your own is going to get to you.

What can you do about it?

There are several options – but the first thing you’re going to have to do is to make addressing your isolation a top priority.  You will have to allocate time and effort to meeting and talking to people that goes beyond day to day operations.

The simplest solution is to identify a mentor or a few peers who you respect (and are willing to help you) and set up a regular group business meeting with the sole intention of talking about and helping each other with business issues.  I would suggest meeting at least once a month, but you could meet as often as weekly. 

On the other end of the spectrum – find a Professional Business Coach.  I recommend someone who really focuses on the business side of things, has experience, a positive track record and is someone who you click with (enjoy working with).  There a lot of choices out there – so ask around or do a search.  Yes coaching will cost you money, but it is an investment that will pay back with a significant ROI (at Aspire we shoot for a minimum 3X to 4X return on your investment).

A variation on coaching would be to find a Peer Group Advisory board – it should be a much lower cost than 1 on 1 coaching and will give you the benefit of working with a qualified professional coach and other business owner peers.

Bottom line – don’t try to go it alone, find someone to help you.

3. People

How many times have you heard (or said), “If it wasn’t for all the people, this management / leadership thing would be easy”!  There’s a great recent article in the NY Times from Jay Goltz on the High Cost of Bad Hiring where he outlines his personal challenges of hiring 8 managers over the course of 2 years.  The quality of your supporting cast, whether that’s direct employees, partners or outsourced solutions will determine whether you succeed or fail – regardless of anything else you might do.

What can you do about it?

First commit that you will not put up with poor performers or bad attitudes.  If you take the time to Hire Quality People up front, you will avoid a lot of other problems down the road.  Interview more, be tougher with your questions and get help from others so you have a more rounded perspective on top candidates.

Beyond hiring, the other key is managing your team.  As the business owner you are always on the hook, so there’s never going to be a situation (that succeeds) where you just bring someone into a role and never have to think about it again.  Work with your direct reports to make sure everyone is clear on accountabilities and find a way to simply measure how well they’re doing.  Then communicate those measurements and results on a regular basis.

The good news with people…besides being a top driver of stress, they can also be a top driver of success.  When you build a strong team, you can do almost anything!

What stresses you out about your business?  Do you agree these are the top 3 or would you add something else to the list?  I’d love to hear your thoughts – let me know in the comments below!

Shawn Kinkade   Kansas City Business Coach

Photo by Bingbing

1 thought on “Flying or falling? Is your business taking off?”

  1. Mic says:

    Another GREAT article, Shawn. Loved the points you made here, especially about consistency and the importance of hiring (and keeping/training/mentoring) the right people. These are two areas where so many small businesses need help, whether they’ve realized it or not yet.

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