The complaint I hear most often from small business owners is that running your own business is hard work. Having owned and ran several small businesses myself, I can empathise with these complaints. There are definitely days when we simply do not feel as if we are up to the task and are tempted to just throw in the towel. However, the success or failure of many small businesses is often a question not of talent or ability but of momentum. Did you know that a fifty pence piece placed on the tracks against a wheel can prevent a stationary train from moving forward? Now, what do you think would happen to the fifty pence piece if that same train was travelling at 70 miles per hour? Once it has picked up speed, not even a solid brick wall would stop the train on it's journey and the fifty pence piece that had previously caused such problems to the stationary train would be squashed flat and cast aside as if it wasn't even there. A ready analogy can be drawn to our small businesses. When you have no momentum, even the simplest of tasks seems impossible. Small problems appear insurmountable. Morale is low. The future seems bleak. On the other hand, when you have momentum on your side, the future looks bright, obstacles appear small and trouble seems inconsequential. Our ability to succeed will be governed in a large degree by the level of momentum we are able to build in our businesses. Without it, we simply will not get past the many obstacles that litter the path of the wannabe small business owner.
It takes a leader to create momentum. Followers can catch it and colleagues can use it to their advantage once it has begun but creating momentum requires someone who has a vision, can assemble the right team and can motivate them. The problem with many small business owners, especially those who have extensive experience in the corporate world, is that they are waiting for the organisation to develp momentum on it's own. The inescapabale truth is that momentum starts within the individual leader. It has been said that "you cannot kindle a fire in any other heart until it is burning within your own". Unless the business owner is committed to building momentum in the organisation by consistently taking small steps each day in the direction of the business goals, the truth is that you will never build momentum in your business and it will stay just as stationary as the train held back by a fifty pence piece.
Don't get me wrong. I've emphasised the importance of consistency but consistently doing the wrong things will not help build momentum. Too many entrepreneurs confuse motion with momentum. They are caught up in the thick of thin things and spend countless hours just spinning their wheels. Motion without direction is better than no motion at all, but ultimately it is momentum not motion that contributes to business success. There was an excellent book published a few years ago called Fake Work by Brent D Petersen and Gaylan W Nielson that really nails the distinction between work that is purely motion and work which creates momentum for those who want to investigate it further.
So how do we create real momentum in our businesses? I offer the following five recommendations
Unless you track billable hours in your profession as the key indicator of how you are performing, then the mere fact that you have worked 40 or 50 hours in a particular week is not indicative of anything. That time spent poorly on the wrong things could actually see your business in a worse position at the ned of the week than it was at the start. Develop and monitor a handful of Key Performance Indicators (KPI's) and do what is required to keep them moving in the right direction. The good news is that once you have built up some momentum, this may result in you being able to clock off early every once in a while, once you have acheieved what you planned to achieve that day or week.
There will always be more things that you could do than can be done in a day. As a small business owner, your work is never done. However, each day there will be a few things that need to be done that stand out as most important. Focusing your time and energy on those things, rather than simply reacting to whatever is pressing or urgent, is a sure way to ensure that you are not merely spinning your wheels.
Judiciously apply the 80/20 rule to your business. Invariably, a small percentage (typically 20%) of the tasks that you perform will acount for the overwhelming majority of the results you seek (typically 80%). If you are self aware enough to understand and realise that this is the case, you can simply focus your time and energy on making sure that 20% gets done well. Having done these things, you are then free to ensure that other important aspects of your life are in balance, such as family, proper rest and recreation. If there is any remaining time, chase the final 20% with the renewed energy and vigour that comes from enjoying a reasonable balance in your life. Too many small business owners allow important parts of their lives to be taken over by the trivial "fake work" described in Petersen and Nielson's book.
Your team cannot do it's work effectively unless they know what you want from them. Often, due to the poor communication of the small business owner, the team scurry about trying to look busy or work on random things that they hope might generate momentum. This will not happen if you can communicate what results you expect, how they measure up so far and how much you appreciate their efforts.
Don't burn yourself and your team out by continuing a forced march after you pass the finish line. After each significant milestone, pause to gather your thoughts and to celebrate the small successes you have achieved so far.
Momentum is key to small business success. If you feel like you are struggling to get your small business going then feel free to contact us here at Continuous Business Planning. We will be happy to discuss ways and means of moving your business forward from wherever it is today toward where you want it to be. Please do not allow wasted motion to put a drag on your business, but get a clear vision of what is required to take your business forward today.