So you decided to seize your dream and start your own business. Unfortunately, your fledgling company is losing altitude fast. Despite putting in the work, you’re not seeing the profits. No matter how much you scour profit-and-loss statements, analyze your data, tweak your advertising, encourage your employees, or suck up to potential clients, you can’t move the needle. It feels hopeless, like the Universe is conspiring against you.
Before you throw in the towel, though, hear some “tough love” advice from Suzanne Evans: Your problem isn’t bad luck, bad breaks, bad people, or even a bad economy. It’s you.
“Before you can hope to change your company’s fortunes, you have to first change yourself,” says Evans, author of The Way You Do Anything Is the Way You Do Everything: The Why of Why Your Business Isn’t Making More Money (Wiley, February 2014, ISBN: 978-1-118-71426-3, $22.00, www.SuzanneEvans.org). “Business acumen doesn’t matter as much as who you are and how you play the game.”
Evans speaks from experience. In the space of just five years, she transformed herself from a dissatisfied secretary in a dead-end job to the owner of a business-coaching firm that has surpassed the seven-figure mark and is on the Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing companies.
Incredibly, Evans did all of that without earning any new degrees or certifications. She didn’t come into any money, or team up with any partners, or discover a hot new business strategy. In fact, only three things separate yesterday’s burnt-out secretary from today’s on-fire entrepreneur: a willingness to recognize and own her mistakes, a desire to improve, and unrelenting attention to Every. Single. Detail.
“I realized if I changed the way I did things, those things would inevitably change,” Evans recounts. “It’s true for you, too. Your profits mirror your choices. Your success mirrors your commitment. Your cash flow is a reflection of the consistency in everything in your life.”
In her book, Evans uses her signature blend of honesty, sarcasm, and humor to help readers develop a brand-new mindset that will help them change their own lives, businesses, and finances forever. Here, she shares 10 truths to help you get started:
The way you do anything is the way you do everything. Most of us approach life with the belief that as long as we get the major stuff right, it’s okay to let the little stuff slide every once in awhile. As long as you get the shipment out in time, it’s okay to leave a few voicemails unanswered. As long as your team signs the client, it’s okay to skip out of a few meetings. As long as you don’t actually lose anything, it’s okay if your files are disorganized. But you’re deluding yourself: Your attitude about the little stuff says a lot about your overall approach.
“This lesson really hit home for me when my mother was hospitalized after a stroke,” says Evans. “For 36 hours, she lay uncomfortably without decent sheets or a warm enough blanket. I remember thinking, If the people at this hospital aren’t competent enough to get my mother a blanket, I certainly don’t want them providing critical care to her. I figured the way they achieved (or failed to achieve) this one simple task was the way they’d handle all others.
“Stop telling yourself that ‘good enough’ is acceptable or that the little things don’t matter,” she adds. “It’s not and they do. It’s all those little details that add up to who you are.”
Emotions are worthless. Yes, you read that right. Emotions really don’t do you any favors when you’re trying to launch and grow a business. If your motivation and enthusiasm are tied to feeling the warm-and-fuzzies, you’re dead in the water, because (newsflash!) there are a lot of disappointments and challenges ahead—even if your business is on the path to ultimate success.
“You don’t have time to mope all afternoon when you receive an email from an unhappy customer,” points out Evans. “You can’t afford to sit at your desk and stew after an employee quits with no notice. You have to keep moving forward and making smart decisions—and to do that, you need to stop giving your energy to unhelpful emotions. And make no mistake: That’s a choice. You can choose to plug into negativity or into enthusiasm.
“My strategy is to ask myself, On my deathbed, how much will this matter?” she adds. “Ninety percent of things will not matter at all, and I let them go, but 10 percent of the time I think, Hmm, that would matter. That 10 percent is where I let my attention—and thus my enthusiasm—go.”
You only think you’re a special snowflake (and that belief is why you’re failing). When you were a kid, your parents and teachers told you that you were different from everybody else on planet Earth. At that point, your specialness motivated you and built up your self-esteem. But over the years, Evans is betting that your specialness has morphed into something toxic. You’ve decided that you are different, and not in a good way. Because of certain circumstances that set you apart (health problems, debt, family issues, a lack of education, you name it!), you just don’t have what it takes to make more money or get more clients.
“Here’s a newsflash,” says Evans. “Problems don’t make you different; they make you the same as everyone else who has problems—and that’s all of us! So stop using your ‘differences’ to justify your lack of success. Trust me, my ‘differences’ didn’t magically disappear, allowing me to finally launch my business. I simply stopped fixating on what was holding me back and started paying attention to beliefs and habits that helped me achieve my goals.”
Playing it safe is for wimps. A lot of entrepreneurs have a “better safe than sorry” mindset. They follow the rules, avoid the risks, and accept mediocrity as the price of stability. Did you catch that last part? A lot of entrepreneurs accept mediocrity in order to preserve the status quo. They aren’t willing to gamble the way things are for the way they’d like them to be.
“Hello! That’s why you aren’t getting ahead!” Evans points out. “There is no such thing as wild success without going out on some shaky-looking limbs. Yes, taking a chance at failing might feel scary—but often, that’s the only way to succeed.
“This way of thinking recently jolted one of my clients into action,” she adds. “An anti-diet expert, she turned her stop-and-go business around when one day she finally decided that the status quo was no longer an acceptable price to pay for not achieving her dream. For better or worse, she was ready to put it all on the line. That’s how you’ve got to see it, too. In order to get what you really want, what are you willing to fail at in life, in business, in your career?”
You don’t have what it takes to do it all. In some ways, entrepreneurs are the ultimate narcissists. They tend to tell themselves that no one is as smart, capable, or caring as they are: No one can pitch to clients as effectively as I can. No one is as meticulous with accounts as I am. As a result, these entrepreneurs suffer from “founder syndrome”: They can’t do all the work of running a business alone, but they don’t have enough faith in others to do it, so they get stuck.
“Sound familiar?” asks Evans. “If so, allow me to inform you that you don’t have what it takes to run a business singlehandedly. You cannot do it all. Ultimately, you’re going to have to take a leap of faith. Hire the smartest, most capable people you can (even if you’re convinced they aren’t as smart as you!) and trust them to support you. I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised.”
There is no such thing as “right” and “wrong.” Too bad, because life would be a lot easier if there were! But thinking about your business in terms of right/wrong, good/bad, pass/fail isn’t helpful. There is no failsafe way forward; everything is a lesson waiting to be learned. As the great Ben Zander wrote in his book, The Art of Possibility, “Just look at it and say: FASCINATING. Then take your next step from that place.”
“Because we’ve been raised to believe tests are pass or fail, we usually become overwhelmed and scared when faced with them,” Evans points out. “But in the real world, outside of the classroom, tests exist to help us to grow—not to determine whether or not we know the right answer. And anyway, what’s right for someone else may not be right for you and vice versa.
“For instance: I almost had a heart attack when I read Suze Orman’s new book, The Money Class. It contained a list of items that signal that it’s time to shut down your company. Over the last three years, I experienced everything on the checklist more than once! If I followed that advice, I would have been out of business. Stop worrying about getting it right or doing it wrong. Throw the rules out the window and do what you think is best for your business.”
Yes, you can spend your way to success. If you’ve been nodding along up to this point, here’s where Evans admits she might lose you: Sometimes, money—more money than you’re comfortable spending—is what it takes to jolt your business out of the mediocrity rut. (Nope, you’re not going to hear this advice from your financial planner.)
“I’ve overinvested and overspent on my business many times over the years,” she admits. “When I saw opportunities from sponsorship to hiring, I grabbed them, regardless of whether the expense was ‘prudent’ or success was guaranteed. And I’ve rarely had any regrets.”
Evans identifies some investments that, while pricey, consistently deliver benefits:
The world needs to know your ugly stepsister story. A lot of people believe their personal lives—especially their mistakes—don’t have a place in their businesses. They paste a canned bio on their websites; the stories they tell clients are scrubbed and sanitized. But according to Evans, the fascinating stuff—the stuff that enables you to connect with someone, really care about someone, and develop a sense of empathy—comes when you know their story—their real story.
“Don’t tell the Cinderella version of your story,” she urges. “Tell the ugly stepsister, warped version. It’s the best thing you can use to encourage your clients to find their own success. Let’s say you’re a health coach. Why are you coming to this area? What advice and experience do you have to bring to others? Did you struggle with weight for years, then make a real turnaround? Have the many crash diets you’ve been on taught you what not to do nutrition-wise? People will connect to your mess and your pain, and they’ll want to do business with you.”
You don’t know as much as you think you do. When you believe that you know it all (or most of it) and that you’re ahead of the pack, you don’t leave much room for learning more. And in an age where competency is no longer enough, that’s the kiss of death.
“You can’t be merely good at what you do; you need to be excellent and maintain your excellence by continuously studying your craft,” says Evans. “If you don’t actively seek to develop and deepen your skill set—and many entrepreneurs don’t—you are severely limiting yourself. Remember, your skill or talent is simply that: a skill or talent. Reaching excellence is a choice. It’s what makes you better equipped than anyone else to serve your clients.”
Goofing off will help you succeed. When you’re bootstrapping a business, it can feel like you’re constantly under the tyranny of the to-do list. Taking a break, taking your eye off the prize, or even (brace yourself) taking a vacation seems like outright blasphemy. Do it anyway.
“On a daily basis, I recommend closing your email and doing something fun—playing Candy Crush or tossing a football in the hall—every few hours,” says Evans. “And every three to four months, you should take entire days off to do something you love, whether that’s traveling or just sitting on the couch with a book. Here’s why: You will get more from the play than from the practical. You will get more ideas and answers from shutting down your to-dos than you will from driving yourself relentlessly.
“You’ll always do your best work when you’re relaxed, happy, and experiencing new things, not when you’re exhausted and stressed,” she adds.
“As entrepreneurs, we have an amazing opportunity to shape the world, but we can do it only through expanding our thought processes,” concludes Evans. “Every success I have had, and every success you will have, is a reflection of your ability to expand your knowledge, to change your approach, and to adapt. It is not a reflection of your MBA, your invention, or even your past success, but of what you bring to the table. In other words, your business is you. So it’s time to face the truth and get on track.”
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