Last week I spoke to a group of tech entrepreneurs in Arizona. Most were running companies with a few hundred thousand in annual sales—stage three companies. All were hustling to keep the lights on.
I remember that stage well… and not so fondly, to be honest. Back then, we were not a CRM company. We didn’t have a product. We were trading hours for dollars doing various kinds of technical work. The truth is, we would take any job to keep the lights on. We felt like we HAD to. And to a certain extent, we were right. But there’s a trap in taking whatever work comes your way—it prevents you from getting to your real business.
Inside of most stage three businesses is a business that will really work. But too often the business owner can’t see it or can’t get to it because they’re on the hamster wheel, doing whatever will keep the lights on. How do you get out of the trap? Three quick tips:
- Get clear about what your ideal business is. For us, it was CRM for small businesses. We got clear on that and once we did, we developed the discipline to gradually say no to the opportunities farthest from our desired destination.
- Honestly assess the work you’re doing now versus your ideal business. When we got clear we wanted to sell a CRM product to small businesses, we looked at all the projects we had done over the prior year and identified the ones we should stop doing.
- Chart a course toward your ideal by gradually eliminating what doesn’t fit. First, we stopped doing any jobs that weren’t writing software. Then, we eliminated any custom programming that wasn’t helping us develop our CRM code. Next, we eliminated custom work altogether and only worked on our “semi-custom” CRM product. Eventually, we had created a CRM product we could sell to a vertical. And finally, we created our horizontal CRM solution for small businesses. It took us a couple years and a lot of discipline, but the intentional effort to narrow our focus was worth it.
Oh, one more thing—prepare to burn some midnight oil. Because it turns out, that’s the only way to keep the lights on AND get to your ideal business.
Most business owners worry about saying “no” to new business. Unless they get clear and disciplined about the kind of new business they bring on, they will find themselves stuck in the hamster wheel.
SBS Idea of the Day: Do you know your ideal business? Who are your favorite customers? What are the best projects? What work gives you the total fulfillment you’re after as a business owner? Start by getting clear on your ideal business.