You’re sitting in your cubicle having a classic case of the Mondays. You barely made it out of bed this morning. The only thing keeping your eyes open is that Grande-Non-Fat-Latte you stood in line way too long for this morning. Yes, you did get the memo about the TPS report and no, you don’t want to hear about it from one more person.
So, you hop on over to YouTube for some inspiration and you watch Mel Gibson’s character William Wallace give his “Freedom” speech from Braveheart. Now, you’re fired up! You yell out, in your own head of course, “What will I do without freedom?!”
You march on over to your boss’ office. You pound your hand on her desk and say, “I’m willing to trade all of this for one chance, just one chance at freedom!” And you walk out of the building with your head held high, feeling like you could be walking around in one of those Scottish Kilts William Wallace wears and not even be embarrassed. But then, reality quickly sets in and the question becomes, now what?!
Threshold Experience #1:
You’re in the parking lot on the way to your car when resistance jumps out of nowhere and attacks you like a lion does when it discovers wounded prey. Uh-oh. You weren’t ready for that. In this moment of vulnerability, one of two things happens. You either go back in to your boss’ office and say, “just kidding” or you march forward and decide to launch your own business.
You, you’re strong, you’re ready. You want to reach for the entrepreneurial dream, so you march on, Kilt and all. There’s just one problem…what type of business do you launch? For years, you’ve been told that when launching a business, you should follow your passion. And, yes, that may work. But in most cases, it won’t… although we don’t share those statistics. So, shhhh.
Instead, you choose something that bothers you, something that gets under your skin, and something that you find yourself saying, they’re not doing it right or I could do better.
Okay, you’ve got it. Your idea is the greatest thing since sliced bread and everyone in the world will definitely fork over every last dollar in their pocket to get it. It’s day one and you’re open for business. Once again, the question becomes, now what?!
Threshold Experience #2:
Your business has the proverbial neon “open” sign hanging in the window, but really that means nothing. Now you have to prove the economic viability of your business idea. You need sales. Oh no, I said it, that evil word…sales. You don’t want to be that sleazy salesperson. Not you! You just wanted to experience freedom. You didn’t know that you were going to have to wear that cheesy suit and drink your coffee out of a cup that reads, “Who has two thumbs and is awesome? This guy.”
Then, you start looking around and realize that not all salespeople are sleazy. You can do this. You can face rejection. Heck, your boss turned down every cool idea that you ever had and you dealt with her. Soon, you land your first sale – then, your second and third. Things are looking good. Then, you realize that you’ve tapped out all of your family members and they aren’t willing to buy from you anymore. This is where many give up.
But, not you. You decide to experiment. You follow the model – Act. Analyze. Adjust. You test everything. You don’t care how many things fail; you’re just concerned with finding the one that works. Meanwhile, experts keep telling you to work ON your business, not just IN your business. But, you know you’re at the make or break stage so 95% of your time is focused working IN your business. And 90% of that 95% is spent in sales and marketing.
You’ve done it. You’ve proven that your business idea is economically viable. You’re making money, you’ve stopped playing credit card roulette, and you’re building momentum. Soon the question becomes, now what?!
Threshold Experience #3:
You built a house, but it’s a house of cards. Every little problem seems like a four-alarm fire and you’re not sure how many more times the fire department (you) can show up and show up in time to put it out. The problem is that you’ve been working IN your business 95% of the time. It’s time to step back and cure the glaring defects. So, each week you set aside two meaningful blocks of time to work ON your business.
You focus on three key areas: First, you leverage your role in the business to maximize your personal production. You determine your unique abilities and you capitalize on them to the fullest. Second, you begin to hire a team. Some internal, some external to handle the areas of the business that are not your strong suits or the areas you don’t enjoy. Third, you build systems that eliminate or reduce human error.
Several months go by and your team seems to be making strides. They understand their roles and are producing results. Systems are in place and many of the fatal flaws are being uncovered and repaired. And, most importantly, you can focus more of your time ON the business. So, now what?!
Threshold Experience #4:
One Monday morning, you wake up in a cold sweat and you ask yourself, “Why does this feel like a prison? Where’s William Wallace and his Freedom speech when I need him?” And, unexpectedly you’ve found yourself in the Self-Employment Trap. It happens to the best of us. All this time, you’ve been developing a company that magnifies your reach and power. Except there is one major bottleneck in that business model that must be dealt with…you!
It’s time to remove you from the middle. It’s time to redesign nearly everything. It’s time to hire and develop leaders who can take ownership of certain aspects of the business. You start to incrementally test spending time out of the office to see what that reveals. More fires? Less fires? And now, you’re investing even more time ON the business – probably half of your time at this point. So, you start taking one full day each week as your focus day outside of the office.
You get up the courage to do this, to remove yourself from the self-employment prison that you’ve built. You focus on building a solid structure and order in your business that is independent of you. In particular, you ensure that it supports sales and fulfillment. You also make sure that it is cash management smart.
Wow, this is really working, you say to yourself. My business can run independent of me and I sure as heck don’t need William Wallace anymore. You’re feeling great. Which, of course, leads to the question, now what?!
Threshold Experience #5:
You can feel it. The entrepreneurial promised land is on the horizon. You do the one last thing that needs to be done. You empower your leadership team that you’ve been grooming to step up and take charge of all day-to-day aspects of the business. This is the time when you make the real leap to business owner and you are no longer self-employed. It’s an exciting and scary time all rolled into one. You’ve already let go of most of the day-to-day operations and now, it’s time to wean yourself away from your daily leadership.
You’re still a leader, though. It’s just that now you lead with and through other people. Your focus is less on the mechanics of the business and more on touching your team emotionally and connecting with them personally. You may still choose to be a producer in a particular area of the business, but your business doesn’t depend on you. You meet with your leadership team weekly at first, then bi-weekly, and ultimately, monthly as you make the transition in an incremental way. You involve them in the transition process as much as possible and help them see that this creates more certainty for them as the business becomes less dependent upon you and ultimately more stable.
And, finally, after several more months you’ve reached the entrepreneurial promised land. Of course, this only leads to one question, now what?! We’ll save the answer to that one for another blog post.
The entrepreneurial promised land isn’t a myth. It exists. But the journey is challenging. Like all journeys, it’s filled with hustle, grind, sweat, tears, pain, joy, and happiness. The key is knowing which Threshold Experience you’re in the throes of right now, determining exactly what needs to be done to get through it, and asking for help when you need it.
And, maybe just maybe, one day you’ll be standing there in your Scottish Kilt yelling, “Freedom!”
For now, consider the story you just read. Does it sound familiar? When is the last time that you took a step back and reflected on why you chose this path in the first place? When is the last time that you experienced the feeling of freedom? Which Threshold Experience are you in the throes of right now? What action steps are you taking to overcome it? Are you taking the time to properly reflect ON your business and are you investing the time to properly act IN your business?
Boy, the first four paragraphs brought me back to 6 years ago this month when my wife and I did something very similar. We were both working for the same large corporation and had enough - I mean to the point of almost breaking. We had been kicking around a few self-employment ideas for a few months, and finally decided to pull the trigger - jump feet first (or was that head first?) into the deep end.
Has everything gone according to plan these past 6 years? Only if you consider the plan was to never be anything other than self-employed. Otherwise, it has been one heck of a journey, and still is to this day!
When I saw that greghartle wrote this I knew it was going to be awesome. Good stuff. I think it's a great reminder to take a step back and look at where are. One thing I've always thought is you should look at how far you've come rather than how far you have to go.
Thank you for an entertaining and informative post. Ultimately, the answer is to work on your business an appropriate amount of time rather than working exclusively in your business. If people take to heart what you are saying, they can begin this entrepreneurial journey with working on the business and avoid some of the pain that is more common. It is much like taking time to get a map before driving cross country...a few moments of preparation can help avoid many hours of pain.