I recently talked with the owner of a company that experienced rapid growth. They went from zero to $1.2 million in just over a year. Upon hearing about their success, I said, sympathetically, “Are you OK?” She responded, “Thanks for asking!” Then almost tearfully added, “Everyone thinks that because we are having so much success that everything is great. The truth is that our success is the hardest thing that has ever happened to us.” She was overwhelmed, she struggled with major people problems and got more emergency phone calls than 911. In an effort to maintain her business “success,” she was running herself ragged. She was stuck.
Only leaders of seven-figure businesses really understand the pain. After working with hundreds of CEOs of similar companies, I now recognize the under-eye bags unique to CEOs. Now don’t get me wrong—it’s not all pain and bags. These CEOs are typically smart, competitive, and practical. They usually have developed a military-like confidence. The type of confidence that only comes after having been on the battlefield and come off victorious. Sure, there is a little control-freak, perfectionist mixed in but that is what the game requires.
However, far too often these bright and resourceful leaders hit a wall when they get to seven-figures and struggle to understand why. Where growth had come easy, now it seems like a slog.
This phenomenon of getting stuck at seven-figures and not seeing a clear path to eight-figures is far too common. You know it is too common when you give it a name. I call it the “million-dollar plateau.” Why do these incredibly crafty business owners get stuck here? They get stuck because the things that got them to $1 million are actually working against them on their quest to get to $10 million. So, here are my five keys to overcoming the MDP (million-dollar plateau).
1. Become a CEO
When I say, a CEO, I don’t mean a Chief Everything Officer. That is what you have been but unfortunately, that is often what is holding you back. A million-dollar business is simply too big for one person to handle and it is time to start letting go of key elements of the business (read sales and marketing). I remember one CEO sharing that she was having a hard time letting go of her sales role in the company because no one could sell even half as well as her. Once she committed to letting go of sales, it dawned on her that if she hired two sales people that only could do half as well as her that their total output could cover the gap. She let go.
We all get that it would be silly if Jeff Bezos were boxing products. If Amazon doesn’t grow by having their CEO in the trenches, we need to begin the process of separating you from the trenches as well. However, that doesn’t mean that we hand the keys to the car over to the three-year-old. How do we get the alignment in our team that we need to make sure that when we do turn things over that we can truly let go?
2. Set the vision
As the CEO of your company, your first priority is set the vision for your company. A company’s vision is three parts:
- Purpose: Your purpose defines your why. It announces why your company exists today and the important work it will be about 100 years from now. Getting to the essence of your purpose is tricky but transformational.
- Mission: Your mission defines your what. What is the most important work that you can accomplish in the next three to five years? What BHAG (big, hairy, audacious goal) are you and your team declaring you will accomplish and how will you know when you have accomplished it?
- Values: Your mission is your how. Values explain to your employees how you do business. They aren’t aspirational but rather they are descriptive. They help your employees understand how you have been living that has allowed the business success you have achieved so far and invites them to continue to live accordingly.
Setting this vision for your company is vital. Creating a shared vision for your company is the beginning of turning the mercenaries in your company into patriots. Establishing a shared vision allows you to let go of key parts of the business to people who believe what you believe and are heading in right direction. (Download this handy guide to help you create your purpose, values, and mission.)
3. Strategic planning
Once you have a clear mission, the role of the CEO is to lead the plan of how we are going to accomplish our mission, year by year, quarter by quarter. For those business owners who grew their company on their gut instinct and hustle, there can be a fear that a stodgy strategic plan will tie their hands and prevent them from “doing their thing.” That, however, hasn’t been our experience with strategic planning. Strategic planning simply allows your company to focus on the most important things. With the focus and order that this strategic planning provides, it gives more people the freedom they need to do their thing.
Again, your role now as CEO is to create space for and empower your team to great things.
4. Build the right team
Keap CEO and co-founder Clate Mask suggested, “Your job as a CEO is three things. 1. Set the vision, 2. Build the team, 3. Don’t run out of money.”
After setting the vision, your primary role as a leader is building the team that will be able to get you there. The good news is that if you have successfully established a powerful vision then you will know how to recognize those who are a good fit for your organization and those who aren’t. Ask yourself, “Who do I have on my team now who is not aligned with my vision (purpose, mission, values)? Most of the CEOs who are doing the work of scaling to eight-figures can identify one or two on their teams that don’t fit. Once they put the values in place, they then gain the ability to articulate what is missing and those employees either shape up or ship out. As they then become hyper vigilant to hiring those that do fit the vision. The team over time becomes trustworthy and unstoppable.
5. Find mentors
Even Lebron James has a coach. As a leader, we need to find those who have been down the path and create a consistent rhythm in which we are getting specific feedback and instruction from them. One of the advantages that CEOs of large companies have over their small business counterparts is the fact that they have a board of directors. A board provides a group of five or six key advisors that all provide a unique and experienced voice. They help to focus the CEO on the most important things, give expert advice in key areas of the business (marketing, capital, HR) and warn of pitfalls. Who is on your small business board of directors?
Seek out people who have actually walked the path of growing a company from seven to eight figures and avoid the business consultant who has only ever run a five-figure business consulting firm. Look for programs like Elite that is taught by practitioners rather than theorists, or find business leaders in your community you can meet with regularly.
Of those that make it to $1 million only one in three will make it to $10 million. Be one of them. Some of the CEOs I work with admit that, at first, they were afraid of growth. They thought it would be more stress, more headaches, and more work. However, now that they have a solid team in place, a clear vision, and rock solid strategic plan, they finally are able to reap the benefits that they sought after when they started their business in the first place. Vacation anyone?