Not long ago a friend of mine in the teaching profession said, “I think I am going to quit teaching and start a business.”
“What kind of business,” I inquired.
“Oh, I’m not sure yet. I just want to make a lot of money and have more free time,” he responded.
“Yeah, right,” I thought.
I wish it were that easy! Every day, I watch small-business owners (including myself) engage in entrepreneurial games in the most challenging vocational arena. It takes the heart of an Olympic champion, the courage of a Mount Everest climber, and the determination of Rocky Balboa to survive even a few rounds as a small-business owner.
Dream vs. Reality
We all start with a similar dream. We want to be independent and perhaps make more money than we could earn by working a job for someone else. We have some special talent or product that we think others will beat down our door to get. Against our spouse’s good judgment, we sometimes risk everything to “go for the gold.”
Eventually, we discover—like those who have gone before—that owning a business is the ultimate “reality show.” We hope it will be Joe Millionaire, but it is often more like Fear Factor or Survivor, where we can fall or get booted out at any time.
The moment we begin our enterprise, unrelenting forces start into motion to drive us out of business. We face cost increases, customers who don’t pay their bills, government red tape, problem employees, competition, lack of sales, cash flow nightmares, constant demand for new and better products, and a myriad of other challenges.
I won’t even talk about that elusive thing called “profit.” When we do make some, it is often hard to know exactly where it is. Profit has a way of ending up as inventory collecting dust on a shelf, or in a growing accounts receivable balance, or as a new piece of equipment. If it does happen to be plentiful, Uncle Sam will be at our doorstep to collect about half of it. One thing is certain; profit has a hard time making it into the pockets of owners and stakeholders.
Now if this doesn’t describe your business, and things are going pretty well right now, just wait! Changing business cycles guarantee that you too will one day have these character-building experiences. And hopefully, you have set aside a little of that profit to get you through.
Sustaining a small business over the years requires great expertise and discipline. To use a few clichés, you must “wear many hats,” “juggle a lot of balls,” and “keep on smiling,” even when you feel like punching a hole in the wall. By the way, if you have a college education, it probably doesn’t help much because you likely didn’t graduate in accounting, marketing, human resource, or computer technology. But now, you must be informed and competent in all of these areas. You’re amazing! See, your mother was right.
I will tell you this. Some of the greatest people I know perform miracles daily to deliver quality products and services to their customers. There are a lot of negative things said about business (and some are true) but from my point of view, you are heroes and your efforts help us all to have the best quality of life in the world. I take off my hat to you!
Lead with Passion and Humility
In the following articles, I will be discussing, “10 Easy Steps to Grow the Perfect Business.” Effective and persistent leadership is required to carry out these steps. You are the person who must provide the vision and drive to make your business successful. You can do it! And these ten steps will get you firmly on the road to success.
In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins describes what makes good companies great. He says that the best leaders—what he calls level 5 leaders—have a “paradoxical mix of personal humility and professional will. They are ambitious, to be sure, but ambitious first and foremost for the company, not themselves. They are fanatically driven, infected with an incurable need to produce sustained results. They are resolved to do whatever it takes to make the company great, no matter how big or hard the decisions. They attribute success to factors other than themselves. However, when things go poorly, they look in the mirror and take full responsibility.”
The life-work you chose is to grow a remarkable and financially prosperous business! You can do it in 10 Easy Steps, so let’s get started.