This Unconventional Business Strategy Will Set You Free
You started a business because you want to be in charge of your life. You found something you're passionate about that makes you feel alive. You're doing something you're proud of. You know your business will take off, but it's taking longer than you thought it would. You're starting to feel lost in the day-to-day.
You're one person, so there's only so much you can do. But how do you know if you're working on what's most important? You close your eyes at night and your mind continues to race over the day, tomorrow and the uncertain future. It feels like it occupies your every waking moment. You notice it taking away from your ability to be present with your friends and family. You feel guilty for stepping away from the business for any amount of time, and question whether you're taking it seriously enough. It's scary to think it might not work. You worry that you won't have the energy or desire to keep going if something doesn't change.
What if you took the time to step back and ask yourself what the ideas, strategies or elements are that you need to put into your life and business to make it work? Are you able to answer that question? Or does the thought of venturing down that path drape you in a wet blanket of overwhelm? You're feeling unclear on the next step. It's pretty damn hard to imagine what comes next.
Here's what I've come to realize in building a business that can support and provide a healthy income and life. A single decision made in clarity is the equivalent of a hundred decisions made in overwhelm. Overwhelm comes from not knowing what to do next. In almost all cases, the next step is unclear because you haven't taken the time to decide where you want to end up with your business.
The time to have the map is before you enter the woods. I can't recall where I heard that gem but it reminds me of that sage advice you'd expect to hear from a grandparent. There are probably a lot of life's questions my grandpa could have helped me answer, but I didn't have the sense in my youth to ask him. Now, I ask a lot of questions. I learned that if I'm sick of the answers I'm getting, I need to ask better questions. It's what has helped me figure out what the hell I want to do with my life.
If you’re trying to figure out how you’re going to get ahead, what is it specifically that you want to get ahead to? And, is it what you really want?
Do you want to make 10 grand a month? Live on a sailboat in the Florida Keys and work remotely? Build a business so you can sell it and do it all over again? Or is it to work for yourself, make a healthy living, live a fulfilling life and go on a couple of trips each year?
Do you want these things or are you unconsciously believing these are what will make you happy because that's what you've been led to believe? There's no collective right answer, but be sure you're asking the questions that give you the answer that's right for you.
Here's why answering those questions is so damn important for your life and business. It lets you put a pin on a map. You can say, "This is where I want to go." When you make the decision to plot out where you want to go, you can begin to pull together a plan on how you're going to get there. You are not the first person to do what you're doing. Hundreds, thousands, perhaps millions of people have walked the same path before you. You are never more than an arm's length away from the world’s most brilliant minds. And the beautiful thing about successful people is that they leave breadcrumbs. They write books, have blogs, send out newsletters, are interviewed on podcasts, post on Twitter. There are endless ways to connect with their thinking.
What you'll come to see of the people you admire is that a lot of what they do is boring. They tend to be routine driven. Success is often a result of committing to the fundamentals over and over. They know what they want to make progress on and what specific things will help them get there. They don't leave things to chance, or chase rainbows with the hopes of a pot of gold awaiting their arrival. They keep the main thing the main thing.
Think of your business like a woodworking project. Even if you're a skilled carpenter, you need an idea of what you're building, what tools you’ll require and how you're going to go about building it.
Plotting out what you're building, what you need to learn and how you're going to do it has the potential to save lives (or at least save your life from overwhelm).
Take for example a simple list put together by Dr. Peter Pronovost to reduce the risk of infections when conducting a relatively common procedure. In the book The Checklist Manifesto, author Atul Gawande shared the five simple steps Pronovost wrote on a piece of paper for doctors to follow when putting in a catheter line. Doctors are supposed to (1) wash their hands with soap, (2) clean the patient’s skin with chlorhexidine antiseptic, (3) put sterile drapes over the entire patient, (4) wear a sterile mask, hat, gown, and gloves, and (5) put a sterile dressing over the catheter site once the line is in. Check, check, check, check, check.
These steps are no-brainers for doctors; they have been known and taught for years. It might seem silly to put together a checklist like this for obvious actions, but this is exactly why it so damn important. The obvious is easy to ignore. It loses the bright shiny appeal of trends and hype. We assume that if it's simple, it can't be effective. Just the opposite is true, simplicity is sophistication. If it's not beautiful, it's not simple enough. It's so fucking easy to lose sight of what you're working towards when you get wrapped up in the day-to-day.
Pronovost asked the nurses in his I.C.U. to observe the doctors for a month as they put lines into patients, and record how often they completed each step. In more than a third of patients, they skipped at least one.
Author James Clear pointed out in his book Atomic Habits that, "This five-step checklist was the simple solution that Michigan hospitals used to save 1,500 lives. Think about that for a moment. There were no technical innovations. There were no pharmaceutical discoveries or cutting-edge procedures. The physicians just stopped skipping steps. They implemented the answers they already had on a more consistent basis."
It led to me committing myself to five areas of focus that are burned into my schedule ahead of everything else. Everything else I do is secondary. My work is all about creation and contribution. I write, I have a podcast launching mid May, I send out a weekly newsletter, I take steps to move me through the stages of business development (Creation -> Concentration -> Momentum), and I devote myself to rituals that keep me physically energized, emotionally connected, mentally engaged and spiritually aligned. Daily momentum in each of these five is like putting gas in my car. I'll never run out of gas if filling up is part of my routine. The caveat being, commit to deadlines or shit won't get done. Don't leave the most important things to chance.
Whatever you're doing, consider writing being one of the skills you learn/practice consistently. Creation is the only way you can escape trading time for money. A body of work will serve you well beyond the simple content it creates. It helps you figure out what the hell you're building. There is no shortage of ways to hone your craft.
Don't get lost in thinking you need to focus on the latest and greatest hacks and tricks. Certain actions are tried and tested. I spend next to no time deciding what I need to do next. This frees up a ridiculous amount of energy that is otherwise spent on lost focus. If you focus on yourself and your skills, you will get better. And everyone around you will get better because people take notice. You'll see what you're doing has a ripple effect. What is your stone you're dropping into the lake and how is that going to ripple?
When you take that time to step back and ask what are you working on, there's a chance to tap into a unique and rich perspective that only you can bring. This always leads to a more fruitful life, but keep in mind that the last thing to produce on a fruit tree is the fruit. Working on your five-step checklist is like planting seeds, watering them and caring for them until the fruit comes along.
Here's a simple question to ask yourself in choosing your own five: What do you enjoy refining? Many people get excited to do something once, but ultimately get bored. It's the areas you can't help yourself from rethinking, revising, reorganizing, and optimizing where you have a long-term advantage.
This is also why I build 90-day reflection points into my year so it gives me a chance to pivot if need be. It's like an oil change in your car every 5,000 km. You might not always feel like it, but it's critical if you plan to continue driving your car without it bursting into flames on the highway. It needs to be done if you want to get where you're going.
Focus less on the possibility of failure and more on the possibility of opportunity that comes from learning when things don't go as planned. Steve Blank, a living legend among Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, is credited with developing the method that started the lean startup movement. He said, "No business plan survives first contact with the customer." It's an ever-evolving process for growth. Just because something doesn't do what you planned it to do doesn't mean it's useless. The process of planning is very valuable, for forcing you to think hard about what you are doing.
The author Anatole France reminds us "To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream, not only plan, but also believe.” This is the beauty of building a business. You don't need a perfect plan. You need one you believe in that moves you forward, instead of stalling and waiting for perfection. None of that planning can replace firsthand experience. Don’t let your doubts slow you down. Your work will get better over time, and so will your understanding of your business. The best business strategy is one that evolves right along with you.