Are you letting stress run your business?
Talk to any marketing strategist worth their salt and they will tell you that building your brand - and your client-base - takes time.
This thinking isn't unfounded - and they aren't "wrong".
Look at best practices for growth from the likes of Prof Byron Sharp and other leading academic thinkers in this space and the research is compelling - need more customers? Grow your brand.
But here's the thing - implementing better marketing practices for the future is only one piece of the puzzle for revenue growth - and to understand where the opportunities are, we have to look at the bigger picture.
"We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them" - Albert Einstein
In the first few years of business, we learn to make decisions on a set of observations that can lead to poor assumptions about how to govern a business.
We haven't had the chance to try out the growth strategies that big brands use because they aren't yet applicable to our business.
Play your cards right and one day they will be.
But in order to get there you have to escape the trap of the reactionary feedback loop that almost every small business owner and new entrepreneur falls into...myself included.
When we need clients - they suddenly appear
Have you noticed that when youreallyneed clients to stay afloat - you somehow, as if by magic, get enough paying clients to keep your doors open?
Well it's not magic - and it's got nothing to do with the bogus "law of attraction" that so many coaches are preaching nowadays (seriously guys, 'The Secret' is 12 years old and was a load of hogwash to begin with...)
So why is it that when we reallyreallyneed clients we manage to make a few sales, but when things are going ok, and "it'd be nice" to have more clients we can't get a single lead?
It's got to do with one of my favourite subjects: how our brain works.
Our Lazy Brain
If our brain was a cartoon character it would be Eric Cartman from South Park. Pathologically lazy, self-interested and surprisingly brilliant at making sure things stay that way.
Our brain is essentially a pattern-recognition machine - when things are familiar, comfortable and ordinary we remain in our "autopilot" mode - our default lazy couch potato brain is at work.
BUT when things are novel, surprising and distinct - our brain pays close attention - the status quo has been disrupted, and normality must be restored.
A cocktail of neurotransmitters - acetylcholine, noradrenaline, serotonin and dopamine surge through our brain making us more alert, aroused, ready to react.
(And to the scientists reading this - yes this is a huge oversimplification - I can't pack 4 years of brain science into a single article)
What our brain really wants to work out is: "is this a threat, a reward or can I just ignore it?"
If we perceive it as a threat, we change gears into "fight or flight" mode - our body's stress response.
When we're alert and aroused we're more conscious of what's going on - often, if we're not too stressed out it can actually help us in the short term - we do the urgent, important things we need to do to survive.
So we're more likely to see an opportunity, pay attention to it and remember to use it to our advantage.
You notice a conversation on LinkedIn, you put some feelers out, you remember that friend of a friend who needs help with the problem your business solves.
The best time to get more clients, is when you already have "enough" clients
For many small businesses, the need for clients only becomes apparent when there aren't enough clients tomaintain the status quo.
At this point we're in an aroused, panic mode, and we start paying more attention to generating leads and making the sales we need to stay afloat.
New business opportunities are always there - but when things are doing ok, we're literally not in the right frame of mind or emotional state to be acutely aware of them.
BUT if you want to maintain an upward trajectory to continue growing from a comfortable 6-figure or 7-figure business towards multi-million dollar turnover, your decisions about revenue growth need to be based on best business practices - not on whether or not there is an immediate threat to the business.
That means you must always be out in market, always be selling, always be closing - keeping your marketing and sales efforts consistent and continuous.
Why Vision Statements are so Important
The reactionary feedback loop - or business roller coaster ride - stops the day you decide to be proactive instead of reactive by setting bigger, bolder intentions for your business.
We do this by creating a future-state business vision - a destination for where we want the business to be down the track - say in 10 years from now.
We are telling ourselves and the people who work with us that we haven't reached an "equilibrium" that we can't "set and forget" our business.
Instead, until we reach this future state we need to keep our eyes open, we need to keep challenging ourselves, learning, adapting, evolving. When there is no status quo to maintain, learning and innovation becomes part of our modus operandi.
"When there is no status quo to maintain, learning and innovation becomes part of our modus operandi"
A goal alone isn't enough
Having a Vision Statement and setting goals for the future are part of the solution - but they aren't everything.
We need to drive the motivation and behaviours that align with this vision - coping with change needs to be part of business as usual.
Back in the days when books like "Think and Grow Rich" (Napoleon Hill) and "The Master Key System" (Charles Haanel) were written, the thinking was that our behaviour was driven by our cognition - our thoughts, ideas values and attitudes, were responsible for controlling and changing our behaviour.
The idea was to use willpower to change our behaviour, to literally "think our way" into a new reality - something like this:
Fast forward 70 years or so and we get Skinner's behaviourist theory which posited that we are born a "blank slate" and that, over time, it is our environment that shapes our behaviour and in turn affects our beliefs, ideas and values:
In fact - for a few decades now behavioural psychologists have known that this isn't a case of either / or - it is a case of and/and:
We see these different lines of thinking play out in different operation models all the time.
Some businesses focus on the changing behaviour through extrinsic recognition and reward. Others focus on developing a core set of values, ideas and beliefs as guiding principles to govern behaviour that become a part of the people that work in the business. The best businesses, do both.
To drive the vision and goals of a business, we need to come at it from both angles - intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.
To put it simply there are 3C's every business leader needs to remember:
Confidence is infectious. Not only do we like, trust and follow people who appear sure of themselves - we are inspired to act with more confidence ourselves.
Set the standard for the beliefs, practices, patterns and behaviour that are required in order to achieve the business' purpose encapsulated by your vision.
Invite vulnerability and individualism so employees and customers can voice their concerns, share their ideas and continue to feel like they belong.
People aren't drones - but when we're working to maintain the status quo in the business, our brain stops learning and we fall into the trap of operating on autopilot, no longer engaged with our work.
For me this is where it gets personal.
I stopped working in an employed role the day that what intrinsically motivated me and what I was extrinsically recognised for no longer aligned - the day I wanted to continue learning, improving, growing and the company rewarded me for doing what I was told day in and day out.
85% of people hate the job they're in right now. Over 40% of millennials plan to leave their job in the next 2 years. Most of the workforce in Australia - roughly 70% - are employed by SME's (47% of which are classified as small businesses).
A business can't survive on stress and people need motivation to stay engaged with their work.
If you want to grow and scale your business, you need to decide where you're going, how you will get there and what will keep you and your team motivated at every step of the journey.