Do you know the steps for growing your business? What it really takes? Sometimes it’s so much simpler than it sounds or looks, and sometimes half of it is just showing up. Putting one foot in front of the other and doing the work. Getting back up when you get knocked down—that kind of stuff.
But what work are we supposed to be doing when we show up, and get back up after being knocked down? What’s important to do and what isn’t? What makes and breaks it for a small business owner in the real world?
If you’re tired of all the flash-in-the-pan “try me” strategies that never seem to work for you, and advice from people who have not been out there fighting the dragons every day, then listen to this—there are just a few things you need to do. But you really do need to do them. Lip service won’t cut it.
Here are the 7 steps to real business growth, as I learned them from over 30 years of real in-the-trenches business (these steps are an overview, a summary of the in-depth steps and strategies I’ve broken down for you in my Business Blueprint Chunks, which are now on special for my Holiday Coaching, until November 30):
Step 1. Find out where you are
Yep, that’s it—where the heck are you?
What’s working for you? What’s not working? What are your major challenges—have you really stopped to think about that? Are you feeling stuck at a certain level? Has the market changed, and the old ways of getting business aren’t working anymore? Are you feeling invisible in your field? Need more customers? Need a higher quality customer? Or are you growing too fast, out of control? Or are you so busy always putting out fires that you can’t get to what you really want or need to do?
You could be anywhere, with any number of challenges—the point is to take stock and know exactly where you stand in your business. Because, in business today, where you stand can change pretty quickly—and where your customer stands can also change quickly. If you don’t know where you are, you won’t know where to start, and you won’t be able to react.
Step 2. Figure out where you want to go
Do you have a real vision for you business? Do you know where you want it to take you?
I’m always flabbergasted by the number of business owners who say, “That’s a good question,” when I ask them this. It’s beyond my comprehension. When I first started my design firm, all I ever did was think about and plan the way I wanted it to be—from who I would work with and what I would offer, to my messaging, positioning, and marketing—so I can’t imagine that anyone would not do that. Here’s what I say back to those who don’t have a vision for their business:
If you left your home and went out to your car, climbed in, and sat there, waiting, where do you think your car would take you? Nowhere, of course! You have to put the key in the ignition, put the engine in gear, and steer it in the direction you’ve chosen. It’s the same with your business.
Step 3. Determine the gap between where you are and where you want to go
Now that you know where you are, and you know where you want to go, what’s the gap between the two? How far do you have to travel? What do you need to do, be, or have—to get from here to there?
Do you need to add to your products or services? Do you need to learn more about marketing? How about your customer knowledge—are you sure you’re fishing in the right pond? Do you know who your ideal customer is? Do you have the right niche?
Maybe your gap is huge—or maybe it isn’t very big at all. But you won’t know unless you define it.
Step 4. Take a look at how you’re thinking
Did you ever listen to author and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar? One of the things he’s famous for is encouraging us to get rid of our “stinkin’ thinkin’,” as many a business has failed because of it.
It could be you that’s holding you back, with your limiting habits and beliefs. Make a list of any limiting habits and beliefs that you have that keep you from moving forward and growing your business.
Don’t think you have any? You might start with these, and really be truthful with yourself:
“I’ll never make any money.”
“Money is the root of all evil.”
“People don’t want to buy from me.”
“No one understands what I do, so I have to do everything.”
“We’ll never have any money.”
“I can’t delegate this—I’m the only one who can do it.”
“I’m not a good sales person (or insert whatever you think you’re not good at).”
“My family never had any money.”
“I couldn’t do that.”
“They’re filthy rich. They probably inherited it or did something dishonest to get it.”
“My business is so competitive, we’ll never get ahead.”
“My people just don’t ‘get it.’ So I have to be responsible for everything.”
Do you hear yourself at all in there? Are there others you can think of? Are you limiting yourself with your negative thinking? There are enough challenges in business without you being your own enemy. Get rid of limiting beliefs and replace them with positive ones.
Step 5. Get clear on your systems
Are there things you do over and over again that could be made into systems? From little things like how you answer the phone to big things like the core of your client services, take a look at the tasks and procedures you have and see if they can be systematized. You’ll be amazed at what a difference this will make in your business all the way around, and open up room for you to grow quickly.
I know, it’s easy to resist this step—everyone does. After all, you know how you do what you do, so why write it down? Why organize it? Because, if it’s in a system, then it’s not in your head, and it’s easier and more efficient to repeat the next time. Or someone else can take it over for you. Suddenly your time is freed up. Things are accomplished with more regular results, they can be measured, tracked, and improved upon. A system for your core offering also separates you from the pack, helps to identify your true value, and gives you meaningful ways to discuss how you help people.
Step 6. Know your numbers
How much money do you really need to make? What numbers do you really need to watch? Do you really need to make “a million dollars”? How about “six figures”? Are you clear on what these numbers mean to you and your business or are you just pulling them out of the air?
Many business owners have done a budget for their home and personal life but have not gone that route with their business. If you don’t know the cost of doing business (your overhead) and how much you need to make in profit (what’s left over), you won’t know if your business is a success.
For lots of us, looking at financial statements can put us into overwhelm, so I’m not asking you to become a wizard with your accounting. I never got very good at that myself. But every week I checked my cash position—the amount of cash I had in accounts and outstanding invoices, minus the bills I owed—which kept me on top of things. Check these things, too, and you’ll be able to track your growth as well as sleep much better at night. And remember, what you put your attention on grows, including your bank account.
Step 7. Get the right support
Who’s on your team? Do you have the right people around you? Are they doing the right things? Do they truly support you?
First, if you’re a solo business owner, it’s important for you not to try to do everything on your own. It’s not possible—you’re really great at some things, but let’s face it, you’re not so good at others. If you’re trying this, you already know that things slip through the cracks and you spend way too much time switching between tasks and then not doing them efficiently anyway. Get the things off your desk that should be done by someone who can do them better and faster than you, so you can focus on what you do best, and your business will grow much faster—and you’ll make more money. This is fact, I’ve seen it work in my own business, and I’ve seen it over and over again with my clients and other business owners.
Second, if you have a staff, make sure you have the right people, that they share your values, and that they truly support you. This means working interdependently as a team with the right amount of direction and empowerment from you, including information sharing, decision making authority, and a real internal communications plan—yes, even if you only have a few people. This can go further than any other element in the growth of your business. There truly is magic in having a great team.
And don’t forget support for yourself, as a business owner. Do you have a peer group or mastermind group to share ideas with? Do you have an accountability buddy? Would a coach be a good idea for you, to add insight and hold your feet to the fire? Running a business is a lonely undertaking, and having people around you who understand and support your point of view (who are not employees or staff) is essential.
That’s it! Seven steps to guarantee real small business success. Nothing flash-in-the-pan here—these are real business strategies that work over time. What makes them work? You do. You show up and do the work, and you reap the rewards.