You’ve probably heard the stats: according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 20% of small businesses fail within their first year, and 50% fail by their fifth year of existence. The end for most of these businesses isn’t a big bang, they just peter out from lack of revenue. They either never found their customer base, or it shifted somehow and they didn’t. Either way, the result is the same – no revenue. And when you don’t have enough money coming in, your business will eventually die.
When I first started my business, I was lucky enough to start with a client, but then nothing. Finally, after 12 months of nothing, three prospects happened in two weeks.
I was telling a friend about the good fortune and wondering out loud why there seemed to be a bit of a rainstorm after such a drought. He said something I will never forget, “You just have to stay on the field.”
If you can stay at it long enough, eventually you will break through. Staying at it will yield results.
It turns out that advice has stayed with me, and has applied to various areas of the business. You launch a product and it doesn’t take off right away. The first inclination is to yank it and fix it. But you haven’t even given it enough time to catch hold, or to find out why it isn’t catching on. Stay on the field, let things play out a bit.
And it certainly applies to sales. Once we got our first cluster of clients, they told their friends, who told their friends and on and on. Soon we had a nice referral-based business, that had grown enough to move into commercial office space, and we could start to hire; so the ‘we’ became more than me, myself and I.
Building a business is a long haul exercise. I’m here to tell you, the real secret to building a six-figure business – sticking around. The secret to building a seven-figure business – sticking around.
Even when there are setbacks (and there will be setbacks), you haven’t failed until you leave the field of play.
“… You just have to stay on the field.”
Idomeneo stayed on the field through that first recession in 2001. We stayed on the field when the 2008 recession hit our largest client, who then terminated their contract, which was over 50% of our revenue. And we stayed on the field in the face of a worldwide pandemic.
Now, don’t get me wrong. You have to learn and adapt. In 2001 we learned we needed to adopt some type of organized marketing and sales method. In 2008 we learned the folly of having all your client eggs in one basket (really, 50% of the revenue with one client – don’t ever put yourself in that position). And in 2020, we saw the value in the Leader’s Journey coaching division we launched at the end of 2019 (lucky timing).
There is always a point where things get easier. Not forever, but easier for a while. You have to remember that what is vexing you today and slowing you down, you will conquer, and it will become old hat tomorrow. Then you’ll have a bit (maybe a year, maybe a few days, maybe only a few hours) where things will feel easier, and you can take a deep breath and remember why you love what you do.
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But, things change, and you can expect that thorny times will return – this time wearing a different suit of clothes. If it was the economy last time, it might be technology issues this time. Or if it was a staffing problem last time, it may be a quality control issue this time.
Hard and easy will follow one another like yin and yang. Why? Because you need easy to take a breath and remember that you are in love with what you do, so you keep doing it and helping more people. And you need hard, because hard makes you grow, adapt and innovate. Without the hard, you don’t get the lessons, or the feeling of accomplishment when you overcome.
Also, remember that hard automatically shows up at growth inflection points. As your business grows, new challenges will surface. You realize you need some consistent method for onboarding clients and new team members. Maybe you need to develop a consistent method for transitioning clients out. If you don’t have a retained or subscription product model, maybe you need to develop one. Or if you do, maybe you need to develop a one-time signature product to compliment your services.
One other big upside to staying on the field – people begin to know you – and that builds your brand.