Until recently, my fitness routine included running and lifting weights. It was a good habit I’ve enjoyed for the past few years. The problem was, it had become dull… the same old thing, day-in and day-out. So just last week, a couple friends (who were in a similar situation) and I decided to take it up a notch. We found a very difficult workout and we challenged each other to do it for the next six weeks. I’ve only finished the first week and it was insane. I’m in okay shape but I barely made it through the first day and my legs were burning the next day. I’ve stuck with it all week but I’ve been hobbling around every since. (It’s getting better, though).
PAIN IS GOOD
As uncomfortable as it is, the pain is a good thing: Exercising tears up your muscles a bit so that when they heal, you are stronger. It’s a type of growing pain that you also see in business.
Finding your groove in your business and sticking with it is good… but only for the short term. If you find your groove and stick with it for too long, your competition will bypass you.
There’s a parallel in the financial world: People who don’t take risks with their money, and instead put it under their mattress or in a non-interest-bearing account, think that they are keeping their money safe. However, inflation slowly erodes the value of that money. In order to maintain the value of their money, people need to put their cash into an investment vehicle that can (at least) keep up with inflation.
COMPARING THE COSTS
So, habits and “inactivity” may seem safe but it can be costly. For example:
- If you aren’t always looking for more customers, you will eventually lose the ones you have through natural attrition. (They might go out of business or move on to other things).
- If you aren’t innovating new products and services, you will eventually become obsolete. (Just look at the fear that newspapers are feeling right now).
- If you aren’t spending a little more to make your business more efficient, you will end up with an inefficient bureaucracy. (That’s why I like a lot of the latest online services like IAC-EZ, Freshbooks, etc.)
There is a cost to maintaining the status quo, but there’s also a cost to growing:
- If you are always looking for more customers, you will actually get them. Sometimes you’ll get a good mix of customers. Sometimes you’ll end up with too many and you’ll have to get rid of a few of them… which isn’t always easy.
- If you become a great innovator, you will have some failures. You’ll spend money on things that will go nowhere. That’s not always pleasant.
- If you spend money to become more efficient, you’ll sometimes discover that the systems you are adopting aren’t nearly as efficient as your old-school system.
As you can see, there are costs to both. The costs of inactivity may seem minor but will eventually result in your business’ demise. The costs of growth might seem expensive in the short term – and risky, too – but will often lead to a greater level of success.
TWO EXAMPLES OF “PAINFUL” GROWTH
Take the example of a new freelance writer I’ve been coaching a bit. He’s a good guy, really talented, but also (rightfully) cautious. I gave him some recommendations for getting new business, one of which involved spending a bit of money. At first he was reluctant to do it and didn’t see a lot of work. But when he did, the work started pouring in. I was pleased to hear about the level of success he’s achieved in such a short term just because he was willing to spend that bit of money up-front for some strategic positioning.
I’m facing a similar problem in my own business: I love meeting new clients and solving their problems. And I work hard at it. But it means I consistently end up with an overwhelming number of clients and have to (sadly) let some of them go from time to time. I don’t like it but the flipside is way more costly to me: Take on fewer clients and risk having prolonged dry spells where I have no clients at all. Totally uncool.
GOOD GROWTH COMES FROM WISE RISK-TAKING
Of course, I’m not suggesting that any business rush toward risk without giving it any thought. For example, aggressively going after more customers still means you need to be discerning and try to take on customers who fit into your business. And, innovating new products or services doesn’t mean investing in anything; you need to give it some thought.
SOME IDEAS TO ADD A LITTLE PAIN TO YOUR BUSINESS
It isn’t easy to give practical ideas about pushing through the pain to achieve business growth: Every business is different and I’ve found that business owners are prone to stagnation and risk aversion in some areas and risk acceptance in others. But here are some general ideas and you might choose a couple that apply to you:
- Identify areas in your business you haven’t changed in a while and mix them up. Try to find a service that automates that part of your business.
- Expand your niche to include a group of people with related problems that you haven’t been serving.
- Try offering something you haven’t offered before. Build a quick website, drive traffic to it with AdWords and have a test offer on that page. In the short term it might not be profitable but in the long term you might find a whole new offering.
- Take on more work than you have been. See if you can squeeze in extra work in the same amount of time or put in an extra hour or two in the office. Although it might just seem like more time at your desk, the cumulative effect of the higher workload and increased cash flow can sometimes be enough to rocket you to a new level in your business.
- Do something you are scared to do.
You need to take some risks, face the pain, and through that you will grow.
[Image credit: Usodesita]