Raise your hand if you’ve heard the one about it taking five years before your small business really gets up and running. Go ahead. No one’s looking.
Now raise your hand if you actually thought that each year, your business would be one-fifth of the way closer. Yep. Me too.
Some time ago, I decided to spring the “L” word on my life coaching business. I mean, we had been together forever. We’d made it through some pretty hard stuff. Plus, we were already over a year into it. So it was about time we sealed the deal.
But no sooner had I said “I love you,” when it shot me a nervous smile and ran for the door.
How could it just not be that into me?
It’s All About Having a Plan
Remember when you came up with your small business plan? You dotted every “i” and crossed every “t.” You knew exactly how your business would succeed. That’s what planning’s for, right? In fact, you could already see the adoring eyes of your satisfied clients – who would, of course, show up just as soon as you put a few things in place!
But then, the 6-8 months of income everyone tells you to “pad” yourself with starts to disappear. Now the bartender’s tired of your story. Not even sleep comes around anymore. And that’s ok because you can easily go a 20-hour stretch d in the name of productivity.
There’s no way you can take four more years of this. Your bank account’s running low, your calendar’s empty, your family thinks you’re crazy. And you’re inclined to agree with them.
After all, one “I love you” deserves another!
Before you brace yourself for the breakup and run back to the arms of your latest cubicle, take a peek around one last, sobering corner. When you see the destination, it will totally look familiar. But the journey? The journey will blow you away.
It’s Your First Time, And the Honeymoon Lasts Forever
In the beginning, you’re full of fire and energy. You’d better be – you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you! Your good ideas are just that – they’re really good. And it’s easy to pledge your undying commitment to them. After all, you’ve thought them through. You stayed awake with them 20 hours a day for months on end after you met.
You’re in the honeymoon phase, and nothing’s going to get in the way of paving your road to success exactly the way you think it should be. You’re set for eternity. There are no holes in your small business plan.
But what happens when the honeymoon’s over and you’re just another entrepreneur trying to make it out there? You’re great at what you do. You’re offering a valuable service to people. It’s working for every other entrepreneur out there. Why isn’t it working for you?
Then you look around and notice someone else there. It’s your audience. But they don’t match your customer profile template anymore. Whose face are they wearing? And when did they change their hair?
When the Direction Changes, Change With It
Seeing cracks in your small business plan may not be your idea of progress. Your flawless business model should have played out well, flawlessly. But it didn’t.
Ready to see why?
Let’s start with “should have.” When you approach a plan with “should,” you’re expecting your outcomes to materialize. A more sustainable lens is to see every result as feedback. That way you can adjust your direction along the way, instead of forcing an outcome that may not even work at all.
Adjusting to feedback along the way gives you one important edge: it aligns your business strategies with the only reason you even started your business in the first place – your audience.
Now you can explore an approach that will work – for both you and your audience.
Think it won’t happen? Vic Magary did. His business didn’t always say “I love you” back either. And here’s what he finally did about it.
How Vic Magary Changed Direction After Going Bankrupt
Vic Magary knows something about turning failure into feedback. Like all of us, Vic never thought his dream of running a martial arts school would fall through. But after only a few years of running his dream business, his overhead costs far outweighed his income. In fact, he ended up declaring bankruptcy.
Now I don’t know about you, but my world would have cracked into pieces right then and there. And it did for Vic. For awhile, at least.
Then he took a look around.
He noticed that he could reach a lot more people online than he could from his storefront. And for a lot less overhead. So, he worked a minimum-wage job during the day and built his message in an online platform by night. For over a year.
Vic used to serve 600 people at a time through his martial arts school. Once his message hit the net, he sold over 15,000 copies of a single program in less than a year. Another made 250 sales in the first week of its debut.
Why isn’t Vic still stacking envelopes in a warehouse for minimum wage? He easily could have been. Easy money’s better than no money, right? But this guy started taking karate when he was 10 years old. He wasn’t about to give it all up.
Something tells me you don’t want to either. Even if that means pulling yourself up by the bootstraps and redesigning your dream. Especially if that’s where your audience really wants to go.
How to Succeed in the Direction Your Audience Wants to Take
If running a business has taught me anything, it’s that it’s not all about me. Or how much I can impress anyone with my brilliant mind and unmatched humanitarianism. Or how terrified I am that I won’t.
In fact, my business has mostly got a little something to do with the people I serve.
Here are a few guidelines I came up with to make sure that my audience gets what they want from my business. As a bonus, they also let me go home happy too. See how they work for you:
We’ve all heard how the first step to solving a problem is to admit there is one. This is not an easy pill to peddle after you left a stable job to start your own business, only to have it blow up in your face. Sizing up the damage while it’s going down the drain takes a hell of a lot of courage. But keep nosing around in the mess. Somewhere in there is your wake-up call.
Even if you spent your entire savings on a program launch with all the right partners, if you’re not getting clients – there’s still a cog in your business wheel that’s broken. And admitting that could just save your hide.
Notice What’s Working
Take a good look at what you really do have going for you. And it might not be what you think. It may even be far from what you originally had in mind.
Do people comment freely and often on your blog? Are your workshops consistently packed? Are you getting tons of email praising your podcasts? Notice what actually is working right now.
Reassess Your Road Map
Sometimes your head is so into fixing your business that you miss the new coordinates right in front of you. What clues are you picking up on?
Is your audience having a new problem now? Can you address the same problem in a different way? Are you attracting a different audience altogether? Even if you originally set out to target professional working women as your audience, pay attention if the only people who approach you are stay-at-home moms.
Readjust Your Direction
But first, go ahead and get all up in your meltdown. You know you want to. It took all you got to take things to this level. And not getting “I love you” back can be the final blow for your give-a-damn. So by all means, take your time.
But when you’re done, see what you can fix and what you want to keep. Respond to your audience. Not as they were in your head when you originally started. Look at them as they are now, right in front of you. What do they really need? Give them that.
Redesigning the dream doesn’t mean you’re giving up on the dream. Why be embarrassed if things don’t turn out as you planned? In the beginning, you didn’t have any real data points. Now you do. That’s very good news for you! Because your educated guesses have finally turned into valuable strategic planning.
No need to panic when you wig-out. It’s going to happen. Whether you’re petrified when something doesn’t work or freaked-out when something does, your energy is going to shift. These are all signs that you’re stepping into the success you asked for. The stakes are getting higher, and you’re stretching out of your comfort zone. Now’s the time to lean in.
My Own Redirect
Remember how it played out for me when I sprung the “L” word on my life coaching business? Yeah, crickets. Well, here’s what happened next.
A few months into it, all systems were go. Except the part about the clients. Just when I thought I’d be juggling client calls and lazy lunches with my friends in our heels and tight sweaters, it all just kind of lost steam. That clear picture I had of how everything would turn out just wasn’t happening.
Oddly enough though, I had a fast-growing audience of readers on my blog. Hmm. People wanted to read me instead of call in and talk to me. What? For way too long I was not at all ok with this.
I also noticed that my audience engaged more with my articles about professional soft skills and life hacks than they did with my inspirational/self-help approach. When I noticed that, I started to get interested in what people were reading on my blog.
I imagined just how many more people I could be reaching if I focused my message in writing and wrote it in a way that people actually wanted to hear it. Even though I hadn’t planned on it, that was what worked for me and my audience.
The new direction paved my road map completely differently. I’m guest posting more strategically now and drawing in the people who actually want to read me and do business with me.
There are going to be times when your business doesn’t give back everything you put into it. But when your road to success is anything but successful, hang on a minute and regroup. Not all roadblocks mean that you have to stop. Nine times out of ten, you can still reach your destination if you redirect along the way. And you never know – you might just stumble on a more scenic route than you ever imagined!
I really want to hear how you redirect your business as it grows and changes. Have you ever given it your all and been totally let down by what it gives back? Which of my guidelines builds a win/win for both you and your audience? Meet me in the comments and let’s chat!