The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates that the battle must be fought anew every day.Steven Pressfield
Unless you’re brand new at this small business thing (and if you are, good luck to you), we’ve all made it through the dreaded start-up phase. We’ve soldiered on, taken our lumps, run the gauntlet, learned our lessons and come out of the other end. We mourn for those who weren’t as lucky as us; the 75% of start-ups that don’t make it through. Yes, we would’ve helped them out if we could, but we had to focus on saving the life of our own business. Hell, it’s every man and woman for themselves out here. We stopped for a second, said a little prayer for them as they fell on the battlefield, kept our head down and pressed on against the forces that would see us fail.
You remember the start-up phase, don’t you? In a lot of ways, it resembled a battle for your (business) life. There we were, cowering in our bunker, not really knowing exactly what we were doing. Hell, we really hadn’t figured out yet why we were even in this fight in the first place! Perceived enemies around every corner, just waiting to kill our ideas. Competitors and naysayers; government rules and regulations; forms to fill out; agreements to sign; hands to shake and babies to kiss; and all the while writing checks and spending money faster that we thought humanly possible.
Man, this doesn’t look like good. I’m not sure we’re gonna make it out alive…
But there we were, hoping against hope, fighting the good fight. We kept pressing on, with naive confidence that somehow, someway, we’re going to make this work. So, day by day, week by week, month by month, we kept pushing. Bootstrapping, learning, marketing, growing our business until one day, we lifted our nose from the grindstone, looked around and realized we’re doing it.
I’m actually running my own small business!
We threw off the training wheels and kept on riding. Sure, we fell down a few times, scraped our knees, broke a bone or two, maybe even ran into the occasional mailbox, but here we are. Riding that new bike like a pro!
It was tough, but we did it. We did everything we had to do to make it through. We did it all ourselves: research, development, purchasing, marketing, advertising, bookkeeping, accounting, customer service, human resources, I.T., you name it, we did it. All on top of doing the actual part of the job where we work, doing the job that we originally signed up for. We did it!
We didn’t realize it at the time, when we started the long journey toward small business ownership, but that’s what we signed up for. Bootstrapping our way to success. Doing it all ourselves, saving money when we could, putting in the sweat equity and making it work any way possible. Without even realizing it, we became an entrepreneur, the owner of a self-made, home-grown, all-our-own business.
Then it hits us. What do we do now?
We’ve achieved some success. Our business has grown enough to support us; we’re actually making money from what was once just another one of our crazy ideas. We’re a real-life small business owner.
Now comes the hard part: deciding what comes next. We’ve bootstrapped our way to where we are now, and now must decide where we want to go from here. Are we content with what we’ve done, happy with this level of success and willing to ride it out, or do we reach for more? Do we try to grow this business into something greater? Maybe we’d like to pivot to something else, changing direction towards a different aspect of our current business model. Hell, maybe we even want to break the model and do something completely different.
Decisions, decisions, decisions.
Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision.Peter F. Drucker
So, what are we supposed to do? Some of us will do nothing. We’ll decide that we don’t want to make a choice and just keep on doing what we’re doing. Essentially staying on our current path by not making a choice. Some of us will choose to get bigger, staying in the same line of business, staying in the same lane but trading in our older vehicle for something bigger and better. We’ll keep the same business model but try to super-size it. Still, others will crave more. We’ll succumb to that entrepreneurial itch once more, decide to change plans altogether, and jump headlong into something totally different.
There is no wrong or right answer here; whatever we decide that’s right for us, for our family and for our business is what we should do. No matter what we decide, one thing’s for certain: it’ll be hard to do. Building it was hard. Keeping it is hard. Growing it is hard. And morphing it into something new will be even harder still.
But we’ve got one thing in our favor that we didn’t have in the beginning. We’ve got one thing on our side that was lacking when we started down the road to becoming a small business owner: we’ve got experience. We know we can do it, because we’ve done it before.
I knew I could do it all this time, because I’d already done it… does that make sense?J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
But, just because we’ve already created a profitable small business doesn’t mean we’re going to be successful again. It doesn’t mean that we’re King Midas, and everything we touch will turn to gold. It’s hard to start a business. It’s even harder to keep one going.
We can’t rest on our laurels and hope that everything stays the same, because it doesn’t. The world is constantly changing, and the business world is no different. New ideas, new tools, new software and new methods are being developed all the time, most likely by your competition. And it’s those businesses that refuse to change, refuse to adapt to new technology and new ways to do things, that will be left in the dust.
No better example of this can be found than the music industry. Originally, we bought our music on albums, then 8-track tapes. Cassettes replaced 8-tracks, which were then supplanted by CD’s. Then came digital downloads which have been replaced by streaming services. Change is inevitable in any business. Slowly but surely, if you resist upgrading your business and your methods, someone else will come along with a better mousetrap, and you’ll be left in their wake.
Now I know that some of you are going to get lost in the weeds of the music example, arguing that albums are enjoying a resurgence. Even though that’s not really the point of the example, it does provide us with a great opening to discuss the viability of different business markets.
While I certainly agree that albums are making (somewhat of) a comeback, we can easily see that they have a small, niche clientele, and will never regain the market share that they once enjoyed. Granted, this can be a totally acceptable way to run a business. If you’re content with your niche market (and niching down is a wonderful way to build a business), then more power to you. As long as you realize what you are, the limitations of your market, and you’re content with that business model, work with whatever makes you happy.
But if you’re looking to grow and surpass your current level of success, it’s time to make some decisions. It’s time to embrace the uncertainty of constant change.
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