I am often asked what it takes to start a company and see it prosper and succeed. Of course, there’s a long list of factors: money, people, technology, good advice, and judgment, to name a few. One thing I tell every person considering an entrepreneurial venture is the importance of having a lot of patience.
In a world of instant information, feedback, and connection we are spoiled into believing that everything is “instant.” That combined with overnight small business success stories makes patience all that much more difficult.
I admit this advice comes from someone who is not patient. I want things to happen quickly and according to plan. But I have found that if I exercise patience, the end result is always better: the partnership more on-target, the contract richer, the hire a better fit.
I am not suggesting that you stop setting goals and timelines. Both are very important to not only motivate you and your colleagues, but also to measure progress and provide guideposts. But as you move through your entrepreneurial journey, pay close attention to the pressure you are applying. Is it consistent, purposeful pressure like that needed to create a diamond? Or are you using the brute force of a sledgehammer?
The business graveyard is filled with companies that didn’t properly exercise patience. Expectations were out of line and leaders did too much, too soon. WebVan, a grocery delivery service in the 90s, moved too quickly to expand, and took on infrastructure and overhead at lightning speed. The company ultimately collapsed under that weight. Netflix hastily announced the creation of a separate Qwikster DVD-by-mail service and lost 800,000 subscribers before it was even created.
I am no expert at exercising patience, but I understand that as the leader of my organization my attitude impacts everyone I interact with–our customers, my employees, my spouse–and they will in turn feed off of that energy in a positive, or negative way.
If you are sure of your mission and of your ultimate destination, lean forward with an understanding that it will take longer than you expected.
If your entrepreneurial style is Implementer, patience is your greatest entrepreneurial strength.
Even the best business plans will fail without a dedication to consistency.
If I say I’m going to do something, I do it. If I say I’m going to be somewhere, I’m there. If I initiate a new business process or initiative, I follow through. In my experience, consistency is a must as you build and grow your business.
1. Consistency allows for measurement.
Until you have tried something new for a period of time and in a consistent manner, you can’t decide if it works or not. How do you measure effectiveness if what you are measuring isn’t performed consistently?
I typically give new initiatives, processes, and organizational structures at least six months before judging them a success or failure. It’s often minor tweaking instead of major overhauls that make the difference.
2. Consistency creates accountability.
I ask my employees to be accountable for their deliverables and goals. They should expect the same in return from my leadership. I put a priority on making time for and being available to my team. I work to establish consistent and recurring meetings when a project or aspect of the business requires attention.
The simple fact that there is a set time to report on progress is often the catalyst that moves an initiative along to a successful end.
3. Consistency establishes your reputation.
Business growth requires a track record of success. You can’t establish a track record if you are constantly shifting gears or trying new tactics. Many efforts fail before they get to the finish line, but not because the tactic was flawed or goals weren’t clear. The problem is often that the team simply didn’t stay the course to achieve the objective.
4. Consistency makes you relevant.
Your employees and your customers need a predictable flow of information from you. All too often I see businesses, both small and large, adopt a campaign or initiative only to end it before it gains traction. It’s effective to run many advertisements, numerous blog entries, weekly newsletters, or continual process changes throughout a year and be consistent with the flow of information you are providing.
5. Consistency maintains your message.
Your team pays as much or more attention to what you do as to what you say. Consistency in your leadership serves as a model for how they will behave. If you treat a meeting as unimportant, don’t be surprised when you find they are doing the same to fellow teammates or even customers.
When something doesn’t work, I look back at what happened and ask some serious questions. Did we shift gears too quickly? Did part of the team not deliver on a commitment? Or was the expected outcome off base from the start? Most of the time, the reason tracks back to lack of consistency.
If your an Operator, consistency is your greatest entrepreneurial asset.
As I work with businesses to help overcome their barriers to growth, they often struggle with focus the most. Not just because they don’t have proper focus but also because they don’t fully grasp what focus means.
Here are some common pitfalls companies and individuals run into when defining focus.
Their Focus is Too Narrow
Focus is often associated with narrowing, so when a company receives feedback from a potential investor or outside consultant that they need to “focus,” they think they need to cut or to edit their mission.
I can understand that. When starting my research firm, I was determined to make sure that my company had proper focus, so I only created three services to sell to our customers. Our packaging, marketing, and promotion hinged on delivering these three services perfectly. But as I worked with client companies, I learned that my company had to deliver more of the user feedback solution in order to be competitive and relevant. As a result, I broadened the focus to include any service offering that included talking with customers.
The customer’s voice became the litmus test for taking on a new project. If the project intent was to understand and advocate for the customer, it was a valid project to consider. That attitude landed my company on the Inc. 5000 three years in a row.
Their Focus is Too Broad
This is often the trap that an early stage entrepreneur or small company falls into. It’s also one of the number one aspects I focus on when I work with companies to help them understand their marketing strategy. An attempt to create a product, service or marketing message that is “for everyone” is a fool’s errand that is impossible to execute successfully.
One only has to look at the debacle that is occurring in rolling out the Affordable Healthcare Act website. The government’s attempt fails on many levels of “one size fits all.” It doesn’t take into account the many types of visitors of various levels of understanding regarding insurance or technical ability. It would have been far better for the government to execute a staged rollout instead of taking on the entire uninsured population at one time. By focusing more narrowly, the problems could have been identified and re-mediated.
Other People Don’t Get It
When building your organization, if everyone you hire and everyone that buys from you knows your focus, it’s very easy to measure where and how you have been successful.
Zappos has a simple focus: “delivering happiness.” Everyone inside and outside the company knows that this is their primary focus, and the stories of how far Zappos will go to deliver against this brand promise can be found far and wide. Zappos has done a great job of creating a focus that is easily described and easily measured internally and externally.
Do you know what your company’s true focus is? If you find that you are hitting a roadblock in your pursuit of success, it might be time to step back to rethink and right-size your focus.
If your entrepreneurial style is Visionary, your greatest entrepreneurial strength is defining focus.