This articles come from The Five Steps to Building a Successful Business course. This course is the product of working with small businesses for twenty-plus years and asking a simple question: Why do certain businesses succeed while so many struggle and ultimately fail? The Five Steps to Building a Successful Business will teach you how to successfully start and grow a business, or turn a struggling enterprise around. Check out more articles from the Five Steps series.

Thus far, in the Five Steps to Building a Successful Business, you’ve learned that being a business owner is an entirely new career. This career is called the Business of Business - a vocation altogether different from the product or service you wish to sell.  Like any career, succeeding in the Business of Business requires developing skills that enable that success.  The good news is that one can learn these skills – and you are learning them by taking this course!

You have also learned the ever-important definition of a successful business.  This definition provides a clear picture of what you are building:

  1. An organization that
  2. Makes (current) customers happy, and 
  3. Gets new customers while
  4. Earning a profit.

You understand what each part of this definition means and its relation to the business you are creating – a successful one!

Finally, you now know whom a successful business owner is: An individual possessing the skill to transform a service, product, or idea into a successful business.

Transforming a product or service into a successful business is a creative process – a process you are learning to master.  As a successful owner, you take a raw material, a product, service, or idea and mix it with some knowledge, grit, and elbow grease.  Why?  To build something that didn’t exist before – a successful business!

Success Pointers

As you step into this Business of Business career, you’ll discover that your perspective is just as important – maybe more important – than the thing or skill you are selling.  Your paradigm -how you view the business of business - will define how you approach it and, therefore, your chances of achieving success.

To this end, as we leave the first step of the Five Steps to Building a Successful Business, let’s share some tips to help you develop a success mindset.  Keep these tips in mind as you move through the following four steps.  

Tip One: Business is a Verb

“A good plan violently executed is better than the perfect plan executed next week.” - General George S. Patton

Planning is crucial.  We need a solid idea of our objective and how you’re going to achieve it.  But that’s pretty much the end of it.  As General Patton informs us, any plan, no matter how detailed, is little more than a rough outline once the action starts.  Commanders who wait for the perfect plan lose the initiative.  Those who stick strictly to the program instead of adjusting to meet unfolding reality endanger themselves, their soldiers, and the larger mission.  

Business is no different.  Those who wait for the plan more detailed than a flexible outline are fooling themselves. There is no such thing as a perfect plan.  Waiting for one is a waste of time, momentum, and valuable experience.  Success is the product of moving, probing, and learning, then improvising to achieve the overarching goal – not being a slave to a script.  Is the goal to get investors?  Investors want a proven product and track record that’s scalable, not a detailed executive summary followed by full-color charts and graphs illustrating what could be (but isn’t).

In short, Your Business is a Verb.

Tip Two: Embrace Failure / Minimize Risk

“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” - Winston Churchill

If you are going into business and fear failure, here’s a tip that will drastically increase your success chances: Get. Over. It.  As stated above, reality never unfolds as planned.  But, what does it feel like when your banking (literally) on events going as predicted and they don’t? Failure.  How’s such failure impact the perfectionist who can’t handle events going off script? It’s an anxiety-driving, game-stopping loss.

To avoid such reactions, get used to things not going as planned.  View unexpected events for what they are - learning opportunities.  Finding your customers and crafting a meaningful, profitable experience for those customers is a continual process of trial and error.  It’s like fishing – you are repeatedly casting a line, seeing what bites, then changing your technique, location or bait accordingly.  Not catching a fish on every cast is not failure – it’s 90% of the process on a fantastic day fishing! 

Failure vs. FAILURE: You’ve probably heard the phrase that failure only happens when you quit – when you stop trying.  But, even then (as discussed in Step Five; Own a Business (not a JOB)), prudently acknowledging it’s time to halt your current venture is not failure.  If you’ve effectively managed risk, it’s another opportunity - dust off, apply the lessons learned, and try again.  

Sadly, actual FAILURE (from which there is no try again) does happen in business, and all too often.  It occurs most often when owners are unprepared for the process and bet too heavily and early on their idea.  They fail to anticipate the venture’s toll on their resources, relationships, or personal health.  In other words: They do not minimize risk.

Minimizing Risk:  Sure, you’ve heard the miraculous success stories.  The first-time owner pulls every dollar of equity from their home and maxes out a stack of credit cards to finance a business.  After ten months of peanut butter sandwiches, elbow grease, and sales pitches—Wham!  Resounding success – with six-plus zeroes – suddenly arrives. 

Miraculous indeed - that’s the reason you’ve heard the story.  It’s exciting, inspirational, and (often) greatly embellished.  Such events are also nowhere near typical.  A more accurate account of the debt-plunging, retirement-withdrawing, dream-chasing business owner ends quite differently.  They are financial trainwrecks that often take relationships with them – and even the owner’s health.

The key to preparing for the inevitable failures required for success is to minimize the risk they present.  If it takes a year to achieve business success (as we define it), how will you pay your bills?  What if it takes two years?  Will your spouse or significant other and family remain on board?  Will the process be a stressor, threatening your health and emotional well-being?  

As you move through the remaining Steps to Building a Successful Business, you will learn to minimize risk and maximize the likelihood of success.  For now, what’s essential is preparing yourself for the journey.

Tip Three: Prepare Yourself

“Most people have the will to win; few have the will to prepare to win.” - Bobby Knight

Everyone is ready to win the trophy.  But only those committed to putting in the effort required for victory receive it.  If you want to win, you must prepare to win.  Preparing to win starts by developing a winning mindset.  Here’s some advice that will help prep yourself and your team for victory:

Discover Your Why: If you want to make your new career as pleasurable as possible, find the reason you care about your business beyond money.  Money is significant (of course), but in and of itself, it can prove to be a poor motivator.  Money – making a decent living - may be the trophy, but it’s not what wins the prize.  The prize arrives by playing the game – playing it well, playing with passion.  

The words of Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why, address the source of infectious motivation: 

“Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress.  Working hard for something we love is called passion.”

Keep this statement in mind as you learn the Five Steps, particularly Step Two – The Customer Experience.  When someone freely trades their hard-earned money for your product or service, they chose you out of a myriad of options.  Why do they choose you?  Because your business improves their lives to a greater extent than those alternatives.  Want to reduce stress and increase your chance of business success?  Find out why they choose you and make that why your own.  Make it your love.  Make it your passion.

Expect a Long Haul (and Beware of the Fast Track): Overnight success is a rarity.  It takes time to find your customers, create your customer experience, and implement profitable systems for growth.  Prepare yourself for a two-year learning curve.  Just as important - be wary of sudden popularity.  It may seem counter-intuitive, but growing too fast - before implementing all five steps - can prove detrimental, even devastating.  The experience that drives initial growth cannot be maintained, and things fall apart.  Customer satisfaction spirals downward.  Profit and, too often, the entire business follows.  

I have witnessed this many times.  Here’s one example: Three sisters open a restaurant.  It offers such good fried chicken and large portions that their tables are immediately full.  They needed to expand and expand quickly.  Excitedly, they all chip in, and their collective life savings get spent on more tables, additional space, and more staff.   Then, several months later, they suddenly realize there’s a problem.  They are super-busy but have no money to pay the bills.  

A business person (me) gets hired to analyze the issue.  A little number-crunching reveals that the restaurant loses money on nearly every meal served.  Unfortunately, portion sizes and pricing have taken their toll - there is no money left to buy time.  The only option is to stop the bleeding by jacking up prices and decreasing meal sizes.  Paying more money for less food destroys the experience that made the restaurant famous.  The negative news spreads quickly, and the cost of early fame gets paid.  The restaurant closes eighteen months after it opens.  The life-savings of the sisters – all in their 40’s – are gone.  

Here’s another example: A pair of trim carpenters start a residential construction company.  Their detailed craftsmanship makes their homes a sudden rage among would-be homebuyers.  Within a year, the company leaps from methodologically constructing individuals homes to building entire developments.  

Scores of contracts get signed for new homes.  Unfortunately, sales stack up before the company developed the systems to mass-produce efficiently.  The result: Construction soon lags as complaints mount.  New employees get hired, but there is little time to vet their skills.  Job-sites become chaotic as contractors and employees get in each other’s way.  

The skilled craftsmen owners waste more and more time fixing shoddy construction.  The trey ceilings, custom molding, and strategic backlighting that fuels their homes’ popularity become afterthoughts.  Stress mounts, as do the arguments and finger-pointing. 

The first lawsuits arrive.  Preconstruction purchasers sue for breach of contract, demanding their deposits back - deposits the company has spent.  Homeowner litigation follows claiming faulty construction.  Over the next eighteen months, the partners spiral downward into bankruptcy and depression.  The business dissolves.  The once-best-friend owners never speak again.

I could go on and on with similar examples, but here’s the point.  Being prepared for the long haul and being wary of too much success too quickly is often a blessing.

Get the Family on Board:  No one who has a family or significant other goes into business alone.  Helping them to understand the challenges you (and they) will encounter is vital to success.  Like many first-time owners, spouses and family members can have unrealistic, romanticized expectations.  These expectations may include near-immediate financial independence and freedom - not the long hours, tight household budgets, and delayed vacations it often takes to reach those outcomes.

Often, unprepared spouses are initially supportive, even encouraging, of their other half’s entrepreneurial ambition.  After six-to-nine months, however, long hours and financial uncertainty start to take their toll.  Their entrepreneur-spouse may miss family dinners, arriving late to their kids’ ball games, or missing them altogether.  They often abandon household chores to work on the business.  Family funds get stretched from month to month, then week to week.  Over time, the spouse grows weary of carrying the load themselves.  Their once-supportive spirit becomes one of frustration and anxiety, then – if given enough time – a calloused resentment that stresses the relationship.

To avoid this outcome, communicate realistic expectations and get them on board for the experience - all of it.  Bring them in on your new career and the Five Steps to Building a Successful Business.  If they are willing, give them a position to play on your team.  

An excellent way to create realistic expectations is to take the following approach.  Starting a new business is similar to having a working spouse who decides to pursue a college degree.  Evening and Saturday get reserved for taking classes, studying, and doing homework.  In a functional household, everyone chips in to carry the load.  And, like the working student pursuing a degree, the owner of a new business is learning the ropes of a new career.  There is a short-term cost for everyone, but success benefits the entire family!

Tip Four: Think Systems vs. Goals

“A good system shortens the road to the goal.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

As you continue the Five Steps to Building a Success Business, try to absorb its underlying theme.  You are learning a process – steps and procedures that will help you achieve your goal - owning a successful business.  These steps and procedures are systems that increase your knowledge, expand your skillset, and shorten the path to your destination.  Systems are not goals; they are habits (methods) proven to achieve the goal.

Focusing exclusively on goals, as opposed to systems, can create stress and frustration.  For example, say you want to lose weight.  What is the most common way to start?  Of course, you set a goal.  You will lose X pounds in X amount of time.  Your focus is the chore, a job - losing weight.  You start counting calories, saying “no,” and making yourself miserable at the gym.  What happens if you do not achieve the goal?  You feel like a fat oaf who has no self-discipline.  What if you complete the goal?  You pat yourself on the back, and another round of self-deprivation begins.  With goal-based thinking, the focus is on the results, not necessarily developing habits that will continually create the outcome you seek.

Systems, on the other hand, focus on creating these habits.  What if, instead of going to war with the weight-adding behaviors developed over decades, you decide to work a system?  You start by committing fifteen minutes each day to learning about healthy foods.  No matter what happens, you invest fifteen minutes.  No exceptions.  Your first diet change is to cut back on fried food and gravy.  Later, you make sure at least one dinner per week includes a salad with roasted chicken or unbreaded fish.  A few weeks later, you decide to trade your morning 260-calorie Caffe Mocha for a black coffee (and you save $20 per week).   Then, after another week or two, you stick a bag of unsalted peanuts in your office snack stash and toss the cupcakes.  These fifteen-minute learning sessions slowly transform your perspective and behavior into a weight-loss system.  By the time you add the after-dinner walk to your itinerary, you’ve lost ten pounds!

Systems are about creating habits and skills that make it easier for success to find you.  As you will learn in step three - Manage Systems, Lead People, systems are how successful businesses get created, maintained, and grow.

Next Steps

So, here you are.  You have now completed the Business of Business, the first step of The Five Steps to Building a Successful Business.  Bringing your product or service to market is starting a new career that requires the development of new skills.  You have learned the goal – building a successful business: An organization that 1) Makes (current) customers happy and 2) Gets new customers, while 3) earning a profit.  And, in this - our final step one lesson, we shared some tips that will help prepare you to take the following four steps of your business success journey.  

Our next lesson will introduce step two of the Five Steps to Building a Successful Business, the Customer Experience.  Customers may purchase your product or service, BUT they choose to purchase from your business over all others for one reason – The Customer Experience (and that’s what you’re selling).  

All courses and articles are for informational purposes only and do not constitute tax advice. Taxes are complicated - do not act on course information without consulting a professional. Always refer to treasury regulation before making any tax decision. Read the full disclaimer.

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