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The Small Business Success Paradox

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” -F. Scott Fitzgerald

“A whopping big vision.”

“Create big fat hairy goals.”

“Feel it. Be it. Imagine it already complete.”

You hear it all the time – imagine your small business success and it will come.

So, how far have you got with that approach?

I can probably guess.

And while it feels good in the moment, it becomes increasingly frustrating and debilitating as time goes on and that vision of a perfect future is still just an image in your head.

But instinctively you know, you have an awareness that there is an element of truth within this philosophy.
After all, how can you get where you’re going if you haven’t decided what you want.

How can you achieve anything without the inner desire and enthusiasm driving you forward?

And I’ll bet you have all these: The big vision, the enthusiasm and the drive.

But There Is A Tiny Piece Missing From This Puzzle

In all my own personal experience and in observations when working with people who flat out get stuff done I’ve noticed there are two things they do differently from those with just the big dreams.

  1. Yes, they have that big fat hairy goal to go after. They use visualization techniques, and a big goal to stretch them.
  2.  But at the same time they anchor themselves in what is actually going on right now. That is, what is the current situation and then how do we get from here to there? This is the missing fragment that changes everything.

And it’s obvious when you start doing it.

And when you experience it, all those adages about not waiting for all the traffic lights to be green, and driving across state at night with only your headlights lighting the next few yards, it all comes flooding back and you finally *get it*.

Let me explain.

My Virgin Encounter…

The time when this first clicked for me was when I was meandering around trying to find an alternative to working in a job. I didn’t really understand the entrepreneurial pull back then. All I knew was that sitting in an office working on someone else’s dream wasn’t going to suit me.

So, I tried trading. I was involved in various types of internet marketing. I was messing about with one idea after another – albeit building up some very useful experience and skills which I’ve been able to use since.

But things just weren’t clicking. There wasn’t a natural evolution to what I was doing, and it certainly wasn’t making any serious cash.
But then one day something changed.

I was at an introductory seminar for a marketing course, surrounded by people who were already running businesses but needed help with their marketing. I felt out of sorts because I didn’t have a business, but was mega interested in marketing. The concept of being able to powerfully reach lots of people instead of selling something one on one thrilled me.

Anyway, by the end of the session I wanted to move forward with the course they sold at the end, but I didn’t have a project to test it out on. I nearly walked out, thinking: “Oh well, maybe I’ll have to pass until I find the business I want to start.”

But then something made me go up to the seminar leader and just explain my problem. I didn’t think he’d have an answer. I just needed a sounding board I guess. And I suppose I could just put it out there because at the very least I could put my name down to stay in touch.

And what happened changed my course forever, because he must have seen something in me that I didn’t see myself.

He suggested I would benefit from taking the course, and explained that actually marketing is a useful skill no matter what you end up doing. He later even sat down with me for a coaching session and introduced me to a coach who needed help with her marketing, gave me some practice, and actually allowed me to go on and win a sales and marketing competition which in a small way ignited my career in business turnarounds.

But looking back what I really learnt from this, and have seen time and again since, is that having a big vision is great, but being able to put in the small action items as stepping stones in between is where the magic happens.

When I started that course I had no idea how things would evolve. I knew I wanted to be involved in developing a business strategy, but had no experience or confidence in being able to go straight there. Instead, just taking that small step to be on the course, then to work with that coach on her business, then to create a marketing campaign for her, then to track the results, then to submit a competition entry. These were the real things that gave me the traction that I still enjoy today.

And when I say “enjoy today”, I’m still seeing this journey as a continuation of lots of little steps. I know it pretty freaky when you read peoples’ bios and they’re all “I did this by age of 30, and turned around xyz company, and became the youngest author etc etc etc”. But all this is the culmination of incremental progress. Often people’s biographies read like a whirlwind of activity and success… but the reality is one little success led to another, which led to the next, which allowed them to take the next step.

The leaps and bounds we stand in awe at, are very often just steps from one action to the next.

And sure, I still get intimidated by over achievers from a distance. But up close, when you’re talking new deals, and how you can work together, the illusionary pedestals of small business success crumble away and it really is no different from any other incremental step that has gone before.

Using The Success Paradox

The Success Paradox, as I call it, helps you take all this into account, and create your own success on your own terms. It states that you need to have both these elements we discussed – the big vision and the simple action steps. In fact, you need to hold both these elements in mind at the same time if you have any hope of getting where you’re going.

It is this tension between the two that keeps you on track, keeps you motivated and keeps you creating opportunities you never thought possible.

“The success paradox: holding the big scary vision and the immediate next step at the same time.” Click to Tweet! 

So right now, you have two things to do to put this new understanding into practice and catapult your results.

Step 1: Write down that big vision you want to achieve. Feel free to use a goal format if that works for you. An example might be: sell 10,000 books by the end of the year, or make $Y by the end of the summer. Whatever it is, be sure it’s exciting for you, and engages the deepest desire of your spirit.

Step 2: Write down the immediate next step you need to take in order to get you closer to that goal. And I’m not talking about putting together a fancy business plan, or creating a website. Something much more immediate than that – like getting a friend to mail their list about your book, or talking to your current customers about referrals.

So then what?

Well you go do whatever you wrote in Step 2. And then you find the next “Step 2” which is actually Step 3, i.e. the next obvious action towards you goal, and then you do that.

And then you find the next step and the next step.

Keep doing this, with your big vision in mind, and very soon you will have covered a lot of ground in making it a reality rather than just a picture in your head.

Share in the comments what you’re choosing as your Step 1 and immediate Step 2, and let’s get some support going for each others’ goals!

Remember, it’s not a choice between big picture and right here right now action. It’s about knowing what you’re shooting for and then flat out getting the right stuff done.

To your inevitable success!

About Laura Leigh Clarke

Laura Leigh Clarke (@EnlightenLaura) is the unorthodox Business Coach, Recovering Quantum Physicist, Founder of ProsperityQM, Geek and a die-hard Doctor Who fan. She also helps people clear their money blocks and limiting beliefs so they can manifest the life and business they really want. Download Your Tool Kit for Making a Quantum Shift in Your Business, and watch your results explode!

27 thoughts on “The Small Business Success Paradox

  1. I think paradox of success is important for everyone who aim success in their life. Wow, I think I need to evaluate my blogging plan this year

  2. This paradox is life-pervasive, isn’t it? One day at a time… one step at a time… one word at a time… and we accomplish goals that may have once seemed impossible.
    Thanks for such a clearly stated understanding of a universal, and often ignored, principle.

    • Hey – great observation John. Yes, I think you’re right. It applies to absolutely everything, at every level…
      I obviously just applied it to getting traction in business. And actually, my ah ha moments around it have all come from very tiny, specific instances where I’ve experienced it, and felt the momentum gathering. That’s what’s so good about business – it’s this playground of tangible feedback and concrete examples which you can extrapolate elsewhere. Getting this has been a permanent cure for procrastination, for me at least 😉 .. Actually – you’ve given me another idea for a post! Thanks, John 🙂

  3. Good stuff Laura, too many people get the vision part right but never get around to the action steps.

    After your valuable advice a few weeks ago, I did what you suggested, made new connections, fixed my website, changed my strategy, already have a new coaching client and have 4 possible speaking opportunities in various stages of negotiation.

    Thank you.

  4. Wow. I try to explain this all the time but can never find the right words. It really does apply to everything in life from having a good marriage, raising good kids, being a good employee, being a good boss, to following your dreams.

    Thanks. 😀

      • My 1st step was bookmarking and using social tools to share this post.

        My second step will be to make sure my clients read it.

        I think I already use this method and have since a car accident last year made me have to slow down. I have a couple of big goals (author & social media coach to authors). I have business plans for both. I have small lists of steps for each day related to each. Thankfully the two are somewhat related so a number of the tasks overlap.

        The harder part is having my doctors figure out why my chronic fatigue came back after the accident after 3 months of excellent health. So I probably need to apply step 2 to getting healthy again.

        • Hey Tasha – that’s a great one step two step – adding value to your clients.

          Re your big goals… it’s very difficult to go after two big things at the same time. I’d consider working on one first, and getting that spinning, and then maybe starting the other up off the back of everything you’ve learnt with the first one down the line.

          Interesting one about chronic fatigue. I’m not a doctor, or medical professional, but we’ve seen things like that ease with the emotional letting go process. You can check that out here, if it’s of any interest:

          Hope this helps. You’ve made a great start! Let us know how you get on Tasha 🙂

          • Thanks for the advice.

            With the social media business I’ve been turning potential clients away from day one as I choose to go into this business when I realized I’d been doing it for free for 10-15 years. My original plan had been 5 clients year one and year to 20 clients and to cap at that. Being hit by Mack truck made me keep the cap at 5 indefinitely. The main thing I’m not doing as well as I’d like is blogging which has to do with that tricky brain damage from being hit by a truck that a therapist, psychiatrist, neurologist, and endocrinologist are working with me on as I have bleeding in my brain and my thyroid is out-of-whack.

            I was a technical writer for 20 years. A friends mom came up with the Jewish vampire concept and my friend and I are co-writing several stories together. We switched to several short stories before writing the novel to help me with the change in writing styles from technical to fiction and because of the above mentioned brain damage making writing which used to come easily harder now.

  5. I have to say that I am thankful that I am, by nature, a goal- and detail-oriented person. Which is not to say I don’t get frustrated. I want to do it all NOW. I need to get it done NOW because, quite frankly, I need the money.

    BUT…you really do need to take one step at a time or you won’t get anywhere. You will be spinning your wheels trying to go in five different directions at once…and getting nowhere.

    Recently, I had that feeling of overwhelm because there are so many things I need to do NOW. So I sat down one day and made a list. I’m very old school (probably because I’m 51 years old!) so I use actual pen and paper, at least at first.

    I realized that I needed to finish the life coaching course I’ve been working on for the last month or so. Step #1. After that, I will be working on a business plan while simultaneously producing content and implementing infrastructure for business #1. That will be Step #2. Step #2 will itself need to be broken down into a few steps.

    I’m starting two businesses: a consulting business in one niche, and a life-coaching business in another niche. Because I have much of the infrastructure and content already in place for the consulting business, I am going to focus there first.

    It takes patience to go through the process to success. Entrepreneurship has many rewards, but easy it is not.

    • Hey Anne, thanks for sharing. Yes agreed, it takes focus and dedication to keep chipping away one step after the next. I like the sound of your Step 1 and Step 2, and going for easy wins where you have the best chance of success is definitely a good idea. Good luck, and keep us posted! 🙂

  6. It’s so nice to hear someone who is successful once felt beginner’s doubt and uncertainty! I agree that the big-hitters can seem really intimidating from afar and I have to keep reminding myself that everyone starts somewhere, and that you don’t need to be one of the top dogs in order to genuinely help others.

    Great article!

    • Yes, I think it took me a while to realise this… and only managed to articulate it in a recent email conversation.

      Here is what one reader pulled out of what I’d said as being the key:

      “I think if I’d realised that a few years ago I wouldn’t have put people on a pedestal so much or been intimidated about getting out there and do it myself… I probably wasted a lot of years hanging back!”

      Hope this is helpful…. 🙂

  7. Hey Laura,

    I have already implemented this idea to my professional and personal life. It is very important to have a clear goal and undivided attention to achieve that goal.

    I guess those who fail repeatedly are usually the ones who do not apply this formula to their pursuits. They try doing many things without proper attention to each task and mess up everything at the end.

  8. Hey Laura!

    Great post. I’m launching my freelance business right now and I’m in the point of getting this traction through collaboration in different projects.

    I became to understand last week that it is quite important to measure every step I make, and focus on highly profitable actions. How many contacts I make every week, how many post I publish, how many business opportunities I generate, and how many potential costumers I reach every week.

    I agree 100% with the post. A great vision without a detailed plan is just a dream!

  9. Pingback: Can You Say “No” To A Client? → Creating What Matters → Business Coaching | Personal Coaching | Mentoring | Coaching Services

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