Big steps, great leaps, epiphanies and easy answers: that’s the way small businesses grow, isn’t it? The business media, influencers and gurus love to spruik these. You know - that one big hidden secret that will transform the business overnight, from cold start to millionaire? These silver bullets are promised to transform the business with something as simple as a change in mindset, adopting a new technology, strategy, or marketing angle. A single massive leap in the business, so easy and fast.
From what I see with my clients, this is extremely rare; in fact, the opposite is true. Rather than big leaps, I see the reallly successful business owners focussing on the baby steps, on dedicated and disciplined application of small business practices that build exponentially over time.
In our business planning projects, we look at the business inside-out, with the final business plan including an action plan for clients to follow. In all honesty, it’s very rarely a radical departure from what the business is doing, almost never a sudden massive leap in in a new direction. But they always include a refocus on what matters, of cutting out distracting and wasteful activities and implementing best practice. It’s about doing all those small things that business owners know they should be doing - but don’t. So often these includes small acts of disciplined business management: weekly meetings, better communication, financial reporting, more structure in time use, focused marketing or less trial and error. In many ways, this is the most important work that the business owner does.
Business owners understand all of this and leave the planning process all geared up to make it happen. And then, very quickly, it doesn’t happen. 95% of the time, new practices fall away quickly: meetings become irregular, reporting stops, communication gets lax, budgets aren’t looked at again, marketing goes back to ad hoc and reactive. Sometimes it’s only a matter of weeks before things start to slip.
For the overwhelming number of small businesses, it is the consistent and steady application of good management, planning, communication and innovation that wins the race. The tortoise usually wins in small business, not the hare. The challenge is not the idea but maintaining consistent application over a long period of time.
Focussing on small baby steps, of getting the fundamentals right time after time, may not be as exciting or immediate, but it builds a very solid foundation for long term growth. Over the years I have seen many clients double their revenues in 1-2 years by applying a disciplined approach and running a better business. It is the steady application over a longer term that get results, week in, week out. Akin to a fitness regime, training 5 days per week gets a better outcome that just doing a fun run once a year.
When small businesses start looking for answers on how to have a more successful business, they should stop looking for big easy answers, but look at themselves instead. Becoming disciplined in management style is key, not for just one week, but for years to come. This is about habit formation, of 1% improvements that – although have less wow factor but build longer term sustainable results.