11 Obstacles I Had to Personally Overcome to Start Succeeding in Business
Main-Land recently won a couple of prestigious awards. We are not in it for the awards. We are a little surprised to get them. But we are happy to have them. We’re all still glowing a little bit.
The awards got me thinking about becoming successful in business. My family rocks, but we’re not a who’s who of entrepreneurs. I’m nerdy. Business does not come naturally. So how did my company go from an unknown rural consultant to being on statewide radar? How did we start succeeding in business?
The answer is simple and difficult. The simple is that success requires a commitment to be personally humble, accept mistakes, and learn. The difficult is following through.
I have confidence that our team will adapt to and overcome external obstacles. They are, to use a local vernacular, wicked good folks! The dangerous obstacles are internal. They are me. My team is not responsible for those obstacles. I am.
Here are eleven obstacles I had to personally overcome in order to start succeeding in small business. These are early business principles. I’ll write about long term obstacles someday, after we overcome them.
1. Fear of failure.
“Failure is always an option.” Adam Savage, Mythbusters
Failure is a bad experience. Bad experience is painful. Pain builds character. Character leads to personal growth. Personal growth is a big key to success.
Failure is the number one fear for most people, and I am no exception. I feared failure so much that I went to great extents, risk, and cost to avoid any kind of failure. Failure was not an option.
Eventually I learned to allow failure to happen when strategically prudent, learn the lesson, and move on with better business. Failure is one route to learning and success.
2. Buying stuff.
“You can’t always get what you want.” The Rolling Stones
Upon reaching adulthood, we learn to budget our money and delay gratification in order to win long term. Upon owning a business with the associated cash flow temptations, we adults revert back to that eight-year-old kid that wants one of everything. After all that hard work, we deserve it, right? I had to grow up all over again. If you must treat yourself, do it on purpose and on budget. Anything more adds risk. Learn contentment.
Within the business, the temptation is a little different. We buy things that make our business look better: fancy new furniture, electronic displays, and advertising where our friends will see it. Now, before every new business purchase, ask yourself, “Will this better serve our best clients, advance our mission, or improve the bottom line?” If the answer is no, then you have your answer.
3. Focusing on the top line.
“We did $85 million dollars in earthwork last year.” Anonymous site contractor, showing his very real work experience (they got the project and did a great job).
We tend to focus on our wins. We get even more excited at winning big jobs. So, we talk about and measure ourselves by how much work we got done: the top line.
The bottom line is more important than the top line. The bottom line funds growth, ensures continued prosperity for your team, and rewards everyone for a hard battle won. Profit is not a four-letter word. Learn to budget, track expenses, and figure net profit. Controlling costs is as important as bringing in revenue. The bottom line is where the magic happens.
4. Minimizing taxes.
“You can’t outrun the long arm of the law.” Kenny Rogers
Income taxes feel like the government’s penalty on success. Pay your required taxes, but not a penny more. Your accountant will give you excellent advice on how to minimize tax liability. Listen to every word they say. I listen closely to mine.
Your smart and well-meaning accountant may encourage you to spend to avoid taxes. Spending on your business will help you grow and reduce taxes at the same time. I learned to hold some back. Use some profit to strategically save for a business opportunity/emergency fund. You will pay taxes on retain earnings, but those taxes are the cost of opportunity preparedness, risk mitigation, and deep sleep.
5. Fear of letting go.
The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.” -Princess Leia, Star Wars: A New Hope
I cannot be in control of everything. Thinking so was not only delusional but resulted in running myself ragged.
When I focus on God instead, He in turn directs me towards the important priorities and prepares me for that critical work. See Matthew 6:33.
6. The fear of people leaving.
“Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.” Richard Branson
My personality prioritizes loyalty, peace, and friendliness between people. The idea of someone on my team leaving makes my heart sick. I must have done something wrong.
First, it may not be me. Sometimes someone just shouldn’t have been hired and are a bad fit. Sometimes life happens and they’re moving. Sometimes people leave and regret it later.
Second, they probably will not leave if I treat them well. The golden rule applies. My mom was right. Again.
Third, when a team member outgrows their position, leaving is not their only option. If I’m leading, then I should recognize this before it happens. Then, I create an opportunity within the organization for them.
Learn to train, trust, delegate, and grow. This is more about the leader’s ability to put the team first and less about the team taking their talent elsewhere.
7. My occasional bad day.
“Everyone has a bad day, but not without cost.” Me, on one of my brighter days.
We have all encountered someone who is so bright and positive you just want to squish them. You just pictured that person. I know you did.
A team has an energy about it that can dictate how everyone’s day goes. Call it morale, esprit de corps, or collective aura if you must. When someone has a bad attitude, that energy decreases. When someone is positive, the energy grows. It sounds new age, but it is real. Remove someone who is routinely negative, and you will see they were a wet blanket on your team. Morale, production, and growth will shoot up. Remove that bubbly positive person you want to squish, and you will see the opposite.
As the business owner, my contribution to this phenomenon is magnified. When I have a great day, everyone is winning. When I have a bad day, the team is demoralized. A daily positive attitude is worth the emotional energy. I need to lock myself in my office when I just cannot put on a happy face.
8. Trying to make every customer happy.
“Bad food is made by chefs who … are trying to be everything to everybody, who are trying to please everyone.” Anthony Bourdain
Some people are mean. Some are downright crazy. No human being has the power to reverse this truth. Attempting to satisfy a customer whose personality defaults to angry chihuahua will not help anyone win. Instead, it will water down your product and demoralize your team. Make a blacklist and stop doing business with them. Can’t legally turn them away? Find out what they find repulsive and do that until they stop coming back. Um, within societal norms.
Focus on the customers who like to do business with you. Make a best-clients list, find out what they want most out of your product, and over deliver it.
9. Putting a new hire before the team.
“There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long-range risks of comfortable inaction.” President John F. Kennedy
When a new team member is having troubles, we default to helping them, which is good and right. We love to help people, and our own people the most. The trouble starts when we help a new hire for so long that it hurts everyone. Years of trouble, pain, and heartache take place before you finally get mad.
When someone doesn’t belong on your team, help them win somewhere else. That sounds harsh but is actually kind. Let them keep their dignity, but don’t wait. Figure this out before you hire them or within the initiation period (we use six months). Your team is worth making the initiation period a priority.
Bonus tip: we made our interview process intensive and focused on attitude and our core values. Hiring the right people makes this a rare issue.
“Believing oneself to be perfect is often the sign of a delusional mind.” Data, Star Trek: First Contact
When I first went into business, my father -always wiser than I know- recommended a group of business retirees who volunteer their time to help new entrepreneurs. I didn’t call them. Because I’m pig headed. You’ve been there, too.
Eventually I hit a wall in business. I could not keep up the pace. My business would not grow. Team morale started to drop. Clients were getting angry or worse: going silent.
So, I broke. I started reading books. Lots of books. See my booklist at: www.main-landdci.com/bobs-booklist. I sought out a business coach (see www.score.org) and still visit routinely. She sits on a throne of experience and wisdom. And I formed a core group of fellow leaders. We meet weekly in my office to study the Bible’s book of Proverbs, watch leadership videos, and learn lessons from each other’s wins and losses.
Arrogance is a product of fear. I feared inadequacy and change. Once I overcame myself, I realized that I am my own limiter.
11. Working too hard.
“First things first. But not necessarily in that order.” Doctor Who?
A business owner chooses a life of hard work. Long hours are the norm. Most small businesses fail due to money problems. So, work more to make more. Right?
Wrong. Money problems and the resulting failure often occur because we are not paying attention. Long work hours do not result in better attention. I find the opposite is true.
My life wheel must be well rounded if I am to give my company my best. I still work some long hours, but I also take vacation. We have family game night, invite friends to watch football, hit the gym, go to church, take a class, and volunteer. Being well rounded will set you up to win in business for the long game. If you are in it for the short game, you are not paying attention.
People think I am in extrovert. I am, but I am also an introvert. Humans are messy bags of emotional goo and far too complex for either/or personality labels. Some people lean extrovert, some lean introvert. I wobble in the middle.
Sales is not something I find enjoyable. Marketing seems like bragging. I was told that “word of mouth is the best advertising,” which is exactly what I wanted to hear. Do good work and everyone will know, plus I won’t have to put myself out there. Bonus win!
What we found is “word of mouth” is very strong advertising but bad marketing. It is poorly controlled. When “word of mouth” is good, we have too much work and not enough people to do it. When it’s bad, it’s the other way around. That’s even worse. We cannot control when people talk about us.
I overcame my introversion and started talking about my professional self and my company. We learned about marketing and started putting ourselves out in view. It turns out that sales happen when people hear about and want your product. Growth results.
Once again, I just had to get over myself.
Robert “Bob” Berry III, P.E. is Owner and CEO of Main-Land Development Consultants, Inc., a land planning consulting company located in Livermore Falls, Maine. We don’t take ourselves too seriously, but we take our client’s land very seriously. Visit us at www.main-landdci.com.