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Sabotaging Success Part 3: How Jumping Into Business Without Knowing Where You’re Headed Is A Recipe For Failure (And What To Do About It)

Sabotaging Success Part 3: How Jumping Into Business Without Knowing Where You're Headed Is A Recipe For Failure (And What To Do About It)

Welcome back to the miserable failure series! This is where we get to dissect a few of the common reasons that we fail to achieve all we hope and set out to achieve. If you haven’t yet, be sure to check out reasons 1 and 2: fear of failure, and fear of success. We’ve covered the fears for now and are going to move onto the business itself.

So let’s assume you’re not afraid to fail – or to succeed as the case may be – and your path to glory is clear. That doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods. There are oh so many ways to sabotage an otherwise good thing, so join me as we smoke out a few more Fail Monsters and figure out how to exterminate them.

Fail Monster #3: Lack Of Vision

Not vision as in “get new glasses” but vision for your company, where you’re going and what you want to achieve. This is a sneaky little problem because it can manifest even when we think we know what we’re doing.

Many times, we may think we have a pretty good handle on the projects and products going in and out our doors, but we miss the forest for the trees. We get mired in the daily tasks and the things that keep the gears of business churning but we don’t have a “big picture” sense of direction. What do we really want? Where are we going? What’s the point of all this “stuff” we’re doing?

These days I meet a lot of people who have either lost a job or are tired of “the job” and opt for trail blazing self-employment. The problem starts when these people jump into business without a plan.

To be honest, that’s pretty much how my business started. At the time I got married in March of 1997, I had a job and my husband had a job. By December of 1997 my husband was out of work and we were sitting on the floor eating takeout in front of the Christmas tree, pondering my lack of dental and optical, wondering, “Now what?” The wondering led to dreaming and the dreaming led to our company. We had a few connections, we didn’t have kids to support and either way the rent wasn’t getting paid, so if we were going to go down, we were going to do it on our terms.

At the time our vision was, “Make money. Survive.” We didn’t start with a business plan and a three-point strategy. We didn’t start with a 5-year outlook or a workflow diagram or an org chart.  We just started. And efforts be praised, we’re still here to talk about it today. But I often look back and wistfully ponder how much easier the road might have been if we’d only known what we were doing, what we wanted and where we were going.

My company didn’t survive and grow because we continued not knowing, but because at some point we stopped and thought, “Holy crap, we have no idea what we’re doing!” And we learned and we thought real hard about it and we established our vision and made some real plans that could guide our way on the path to success.

Perhaps I can help you do the same now. If you have the luxury of putting your vision together before taking the plunge, lucky you. Take advantage of the opportunity! If you’re among the jumpers like me, take a moment to step back and look at the forest. It’s the only way ahead.

Do you have a clear vision for your business? Or are you “winging it” and waiting for something to happen? If I asked, “Where do you see your business in a year?” Could you answer it clearly?

The Vision Monster’s Child: Complacency

Here’s a trap that’s easy to fall into: thinking what you’re doing is “good enough”. Hey, it’s paying the bills. You’re surviving. You don’t need to examine your vision, your methods or your plans because you’re coasting along and everything is ok.

If you coast, you may not find your business tanking but you will eventually notice its subtle slide toward mediocrity and irrelevance.

Successful people are constantly checking themselves against their vision, constantly revising and adapting to changes in the economy, the market and their customers’ needs and expectations. Successful people don’t lose sight of the prize and don’t assume that just because everything is “going ok” that it will stay that way.

Think for a moment about what you want for yourself and your company. Are you actively pursuing and refining your vision, or are you merely engaged in business as usual? Are you spending as much time working on your business as you spend working in it?

The Weapons: Design And Diligence

Whether you’re just starting out or have been in business for years you must create – or recreate – a vision for your company. “I want to run a business” isn’t good enough. You need to know what you want to achieve, what success looks like at any given point in time. And your grand vision should be made up of smaller frames within the big picture, because nothing is quite as overwhelming (and detrimental to success) as starting out and aiming to be an award winning, multimillion dollar company and simply going straight for the gold.

Remember, success is a journey. Take it a step at a time and create a vision of where you see yourself and your company along the way.

Ask the tough questions now to avoid the disappointments and pitfalls later. Never settle for “good enough” because if the world isn’t static, your success isn’t either. You must constantly reevaluate and refine your vision so that it’s both realistic and grand, specific but malleable.

Define Your Vision

Remember our friend, the pen? Take it out and start writing. I want you to create a vision for your company that includes all the wheres, whys and hows you can think of. What goals do you want to achieve? Who’s with you when you achieve them? Where do you see your company in a year, five, ten? How (generally speaking) do you plan to get there? What’s your job? (You’re not just there to look pretty and come up with visions, you know.)

This is not the place where you outline how many newsletters you plan to send and whether you’re going to tackle video or print brochures. It’s where you imagine the great things you’re going to achieve so you can attend to the details later. This is where you get to create the story that you plan to write. That’s right, I want you to write the story before it happens. Visualize the path, visualize your achievements.

Tap into your personal feelings of success and forget about what you’ve been told it’s supposed to look like, forget about what other people think, and imagine the possibilities. If your vision is to be an award-winning company, create that scenario and the steps that led you to it. Was it your incredible innovation? Superb customer service? Dedication to charitable causes? Write it in the present tense to make it real and immediate.

Define Your Values

Part of establishing a vision for your company is defining your values. What does your company stand for? What’s the face that you want to present to customers and the world?

It helps to think of your company as a person and give it a personality. Is it warm? Is it idealistic? Does it stand for tradition, progress, eternal youth, aged wisdom?

I bet your parents probably taught you the old maxim: if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. That’s not a bad attitude to adopt for your business. Don’t sway in whatever direction the wind blows. Decide who you are – who your company is – and stand by it.

Sometimes you hear people talk about the “culture” of a company. The culture springs from the vision and values. It’s essentially the lifestyle of the organization. A company culture isn’t built in a day. It evolves when its founders have a clear vision and have established a set of values and behaviors that inform everything you – and your employees – do.

This is too important to leave to chance. Decide early “who” you want your company to be and how you want it to reflect your values.

As your business progresses you may find yourself revising your vision or switching up your products and services. That’s fine – and probably necessary, as the world changes – but your core values and how you approach people and projects should remain rooted in the values you hold dear.

Define Your Focus

If you’d asked me what our services were when we first started our business, I would’ve said, “Whatever pays the bills.” If you’d asked us who our clients were, we’d have told you, “Whoever pays the bills.”

We didn’t have a lot of focus except on, well, the bills. It’s how many small businesses get started, but to succeed you have to get past that thinking.

Find the intersection of what you want to do and what you can do well and focus your energies on that. Resist the temptation to take on jobs you’re either not comfortable with, don’t feel you have the right skillset for, or don’t want to do but feel compelled to take for the money.

When our business stalled early on, we were working hard, putting all our energies, time and passion into it. So why were we trying so damn hard and making less and less progress? Focus.

We realized we had to figure out what we really wanted to do and what would make us money. So we started saying no to work and actually narrowed our services. We focused on the things we knew we could do well, enjoyably and with a financial payoff at the end.

It may seem counterintuitive to do less and expect to get more out of it, but it works. Define your specialty and define your niche. Instead of working for “everyone”, figure out who your ideal client is and seek them out. Instead of doing “everything”, figure out what makes you the most money and what you love doing and look for those jobs.

It’s hard to resist that paycheck, believe me, I know. But to grow and succeed you must develop a laser focus. Your business isn’t a catchall. The more specific you can get about your target customers and services, the more likely you’ll be to hit the sweet spot of success. Otherwise you’ll be stuck taking whatever comes your way, slave to the whims of circumstance.

Define Your Special Sauce

You are not a unique snowflake. People like you are a dime a dozen. I bet a lot of people do what you do and they’re probably pretty good at it, too. In a pinch, your clients could fire you and find another like you tomorrow. Same goes for me.

So what makes you so special? That’s what you have to figure out. In a competitive market where there are very few really unique ideas (and even those get copied in about five minutes), you have to define the thing about you that makes you… you.

You must think past platitudes and clichés. Do not tell me you provide the highest quality work. Do not tell me you care about your customers and focus on their needs. Do not tell me anything I’ve heard a million times before in a million mission statements around the world.

Figure out what makes you and your company tick and find a way to stand on that. The truth is it may not be an entirely unique idea, but you need to find a way to make it yours. If customer satisfaction really is you thing, you’ve got to be creative in your execution. I can’t tell you how to do that. It can only come from knowing yourself, your company, your values and your vision inside and out.

Don’t Confuse Passion With Profit

It’s really great to talk about dreams and vision, but let’s face it folks, unless you’re making money, it’s not really a business, is it?

Lots of us have passion but not all of us can turn it into a business. At some point you must be practical and make sure that you’re meeting goals, growing and, in fact, sustaining an actual business. Otherwise, call it a hobby and find a job.

Successful people let their passion guide their vision and their direction, but they do not let it become it. Remember, your ultimate goal is to make money because without it there will be no business to support your passion, drive your vision and keep you moving.

When the idealist in you takes control, you have to beat it into submission with practical goals and targets. Passion doesn’t guarantee success. Heck, nothing does. But hard work in the real and often unglamorous world will get you closer every time.

Now that we’re three “fails” in, what do you think of my vision for this series? Are you enjoying these articles and finding them useful, or do you wish I’d get eaten by the monster, already? Share your thoughts so I can continue providing you with content you really want to read – that’s my  vision!

Read More In This Series

Sabotaging Success Part 1: How ‘Fear Of Failure’ Will Wreck Your Business And Crush Your Dreams (Unless You Take Action Now)

Sabotaging Success Part 2: The Paradox Of Wanting Success But Avoiding It… Because You’re Not Really Sure What You’ll Do When You Get There

Join the discussion 7 Comments

  • Adrienne says:

    I did the same thing you guys did Carol.  I jumped in head first without a clue what I was doing.  I was flying by the seat of my pants and in the beginning I was failing miserably.  

    I guess back then I didn’t have a vision or even a passion to be honest with you.  I had lost my job in corporate America and I wanted to do something else with my life.  

    You’ve definitely shared some key things people should really consider and take a hard look at before diving in head first like we did.  Sure, we both made it but it’s like you said.  Once we got to that place where we realized we needed help or direction, we went in search of it.  Thank goodness too or I wouldn’t still be here online blogging and being able to help others.

    Looking back I wish I had known so much more but now that I’m here, I’ve been really enjoying the ride.

    I love this series Carol and think that it can really help a lot of people.  You’ve done a fabulous job young lady.  Thank you for sharing all of this and I’ll be sure to share away.


    • I guess it’s better we figured it out eventually, right? I do often wonder if I had known then what I know now… then again, if I knew it, maybe I would never have gotten started in the first place! You never know what will happen, but as long as you have determination and you are willing to work for what you want, I think you can always learn and figure things out. Maybe the hard way… but better than never. Of course if I can help someone think first and jump second, that would be great because it’s always best to have an idea of what you’re doing. 

      I’m glad you like this series, so thanks for that, Adrienne. And be proud of all you’ve achieved! It’s easy to fail… it’s even easy to learn. It’s not so easy to keep picking yourself up and getting better every day, and clearly you have done that!

  • Hi Carol,

    NO, I do not want you get eaten by the monster 🙂 I really enjoyed this series. I’ve printed #2 because to read your post, you’ve got to have a few minutes ahead of you 🙂  It’s funny how when you know your bloggers you know what kind of post to read and when to read it, because you already know what to expect.

    Taking any kind of jobs because you don’t have a plan but just trying to pay the bills? Well, do I know about that! I used to take any kind of crappy writing jobs just because I was so afraid of letting go by what I thought could, maybe, possibly… turn out to be a good customer.  Well, the ones that wants the job done for feathers, never do.

    So, I agree that having a definite plan and not letting the money “desperation” get in the way is really, really important.  As you say, many small businesses start like this, so thank you for this very instructive post for any starter who want to start on the right foot.

    Take care 🙂

    • Ok, that’s good to hear 🙂 Thanks for the compliment, I’m excited I made it to print!! Hope it inspires you. 

      I think a lot of people get stuck taking jobs for the money – at least most of the people I have talked to did, especially people starting out on their own. You have to pay the bills, right? But at some point of course you need to start weeding those jobs out and even if it seems like you are taking on less work, it’s important to do because you can start taking on GOOD work. And in your spare time you can work on prospecting and building your business. It’s a tough road but there are ways to make it work!

  • I am just loving this series Carol.  When I first came in I did so to create financial freedom for my clients.  I had already achieved it, but when the idea of creating something for them to follow and grow to be independent or just to create a back door for themselves, I just had to do it.
    I didn’t know where to start, but I just did.  Did I have a plan for myself? Not really, I was doing this as an “extra” for my existing clientele.  Now my mindset is different.
    Yes my husband and I have a plan.  He works in a different niche than I do, but together, we are rocking and rolling.
    Every morning we have a mastermind session over our coffee.  We are accountable to one another.  Although we have our long term goals, our short term ones must be done that day.
    I’m so grateful that we can work side by side all day long with the one goal in mind.  If anyone visited me, they would crack up.  I have an office upstairs, my husband has a larger one on the first floor.  But we end up on the couch with our computers on stands, while our dogs lie around us.  Life doesn’t get better than this.
    I have finally defined my “special cause” and am creeping it out little by little. 
    As I said before, this needs to be a book Carol.  This information you are giving people is well organized, great, and I only wish I had this when I started.
    Thanks again,

    • I would rather hear that you started without a plan than you were too worried about what would happen to start at all! And you can always look back and say… look what I’ve achieved. It sounds like you have a very good history of achievements. 

      As one of those odd people who also work with my husband, I can relate to your situation. I love it, although many people wonder how it’s possible because they’re pretty sure they would kill their husband after about five minutes. You and I just have a lot of patience and are very easy to get along with, right? 😉

      We have also turned about every square inch of our house into an office. We work in “the office”, we also work on the couch and at the kitchen counter and wherever we can sit down and take out a laptop. I enjoy having the flexibility.

      Donna, I’m glad you decided to do what you’re doing because you’re a positive, inspiring person and I appreciate the things I’ve read from you, as well. 

  • Andrew says:

    very interesting post thank you for sharing it with us i am sure a lot of people are going to be very happy to read this post, great post.