I was with a good friend (I'll call him "Gary") yesterday who also has his own business. Gary's attending a business management seminar this weekend and was excited about the learning prospects for his own company.
I've known Gary for over 20 years and, like me, he's been his own boss the whole time. And as far as I could tell Gary's done pretty well.
However yesterday he confessed that business wasn't as good as he thinks it should be right now. Sure, we can all point at "the economy" as the crux of the problem, but Gary admitted that in his case that wouldn't really be true. While the economy certainly impacted his business, Gary confessed that he had gotten "comfortable." Things had been going his way for quite a while, he'd begun to enjoy the fruits of his labor, and he put his business on autopilot. He realized the economy had less to do with his business slowdown than his own lack of aggressiveness.
I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I did the same thing. I started The Adventure back in 1986 and worked mountainous hours for many years building it to a level where Kay, Kelly, and I were living comfortably well. The phone kept ringing, clients happily referred me, books were selling, and my speaking/consulting calendar was full.
I can easily point at the moment I made the mistake of getting comfortable. It was the day over two years ago that Kelly said she wanted to earn a golf scholarship to college. It was like a big "take-your-eye-of-the-ball" dumbstick had hit me in the forehead. I became immersed in helping Kelly achieve her dream.
Instead of writing new books, producing new workshops and webinars, or aggressively promoting our brand, I dove into scheduling golf tournaments across the US, talking with top golf instructors, and studying the ins-and-outs of getting a scholarship. Kay and I flew with Kelly to California, Florida, Arizona, Texas, even Nebraska so she could play against the best junior golfers in the world.
To be sure, I wouldn't trade this great experience with Kelly for anything. But I didn't have to take my eye off running my business as much as I did. Like Gary, I put The Adventure on autopilot. In business, however, there is no such thing as autopilot. A business does not maintain altitude. Ultimately, inevitably, it goes down.
Gary and I are lucky ones, however. We both opened our eyes early enough that our situations weren't irreversible. Neither of us had done much damage. But how many long-dead businesses fell into the same trap, but were unable to pull out of the nosedive? As much as we all want to point our fingers at some outside force (the economy) as the culprit, how often are we pointing 180 degrees in the wrong direction? How many of us fall into one or more of these traps:
The past equals the future. Of course, we'll still be successful!
We're in permanent growth mode! There's no reason it will stop.
We've got so much business that we're focused on the operational side and not on the business-building side.
We spend all of our time working IN our business and none of our time working ON our business.
We believe our own press releases.
We're too busy filling orders to worry about getting more.
Our clients NEED us.
Gary called it getting "comfortable." He admitted he didn't want to say he got cocky, complacent, or lazy. Whatever we call it, it's a common malady we all need to watch out for.
Remember, businesses don't have autopilot.