[Editor's note: this is a re-post from November 2010. Part of a series of year-end posts I write each year. When we migrated to the new site design, all the old posts were archived.]
I don't know a single entrepreneur that didn't start their business with some type of do-it-yourself (DIY) approach. Most of us begin with more time than money, and it makes sense to capitalize on that resource. In fact, I tell would-be clients all the time that the less money you have, the more you need to rely on "other resources" - friends, colleagues, connections, skill-sets, and other means of getting the job done without cash. In the direct sales world, I see a LOT of new consultants relying on family and friends to keep their business afloat (if that's your problem, you can fix it with a little Direct Sales 101).
For other entrepreneurs we often get a little too good at doing everything ourselves, and that creates a problem.
That's the point where income and time are roughly equivalent. It's not generally a lingering point, because responsibilities typically rise in correlation to our income. I'm not sure I agree with Upamanyu Chatterjee when he said, "the more money you have, the more hassles," but you get the idea. When things are roughly equivalent, we have to get ruthlessly honest about where we're investing (or spending) our time and money. Eventually, though, things ease up and we once again have either more time or more money.
Once we have more money than time, it makes sense to start liberating our time with some of our money. Yet, in the last couple of years, I've noticed that people are killing themselves (some quite literally) trying to do too much. I've mentioned Jon Morrow's story before, but his is not an uncommon tale. When the financial meltdown started rippling through my client's lives, I saw many folks tightening belts and even going dark to "ride out" the economic storm. Yet, history tells us that the companies that fare best are the ones that keep showing up and keep sharing their message even during hard times.
So how can you tell if DIY is still the way to go? There are several questions that bear exploring:
You've probably heard the old saw "everyone's a genius in a bull market" - right? Essentially, anyone with a website could slap up a paypal link and sell their stuff like hotcakes during the earliest days of this century. There were info product "gurus" hawking their schlock for $997 - and it was a pdf copy of a 3rd generation photocopy of a 75 page "report" that was poorly edited, and an MP3 of said guru reading the PDF aloud (I'm not joking). There might have been a few gems in there, but you had to dig through so much crap that it almost wasn't worth your time. The prevailing logic at the time was that if one gem could turn your business around, then who cares if it looks like crap? That was the advent of the "fail fast and fail often/good is good enough" mentality that swept the internet.
The problem was that it wasn't even good, let alone good enough. Stuff like that doesn't pass muster anymore. The bar continues to rise. Videos I filmed three years ago don't measure up to the new HD footage I can shoot with my webcam (my WEBCAM, people!). If there's more sizzle than steak, word gets out, and people stop buying. So if you've got inferior offers, it's no wonder your business is killing you. Maybe you need to invest in a team that will turn your offer into something people actually want to buy - or invest in a few beta testers to get feedback before you launch. Either get help or get out of the offering.
I truly believe you can make a living doing what you love (and in many cases a VERY GOOD living). If a grown-ass man can make money on youtube unboxing and talking about Transformers or doing video game walk-throughs, then I have no doubt in my mind there's an audience for whatever you love doing. But you can't offer crap or people won't keep showing up.
When responsibilities rise to meet income, many entrepreneurs forget about profit until the end of the year. They see profit as an event (income minus expenses, right? WRONG.) They just keep watching the dollar bills roll in... until they stop rolling in. Then they look at their business, start cutting costs, and scrambling to "stay afloat" - when they're already sunk.
You need a profit plan, and you need to follow that plan during the feast and the inevitable famine. Business, like so many things, is cyclical. If you're overspending when money is abundant, you'll be in the hole faster than Alice and the White Rabbit once the money dries up.
Look at more than just your income and outgo. Consider your long-term growth plans. No business can continue to grow indefinitely. Tastes change, markets change, and entrepreneurs have to be willing to pivot, shift, and serve their markets in meaningful ways. A profitable business today may not be profitable in future years (Blockbuster Video, anyone?), and a smart business owner keeps pace with the changes. If that takes up too much of your time, then a coach, an accountant, or another financial professional can help you keep your finger on the pulse of your business.
This is where it all comes down. You can work like a dog and have a profitable business, but have no life to speak of. Likewise, if you're constantly "re-investing" into the company, then you're not creating something sustainable. You're blue-balling your business (yes, I said it) - stringing it along and keeping it from really performing.
I had a client that owned a screen-printing company. The company was recognized for doing great work and the employees liked working there. My client was an investor, he didn't work in the business. His good friend was the owner, and wasn't particularly responsible with the income. So my client had stepped in as an "investor" to make sure payroll would be met on a consistent basis. Year after year my client plowed money into the company to keep it afloat, but when we looked at the books, the company wasn't sustaining itself. It wasn't profitable, but he didn't mind plowing the money into the company because it kept his friends in jobs. I told him he was blue-balling the company and that they needed to sit down and get real about their revenue plan. I told him he needed to have this conversation with his friend sooner, rather than later, because the company wasn't really a business!
He told me he didn't have time to have that conversation because he was busy with his own job (where all the "investment " money was coming from). Plus, he didn't want to "get into it" with his buddy. So the company hobbled along for a few more years before his buddy finally bailed on the business. Now, he's got a solid business manager in there running things. Hopefully, he'll be able to turn the ship around and create a profitable, sustainable business.
You can pump all your time or all your money back into your venture, but that doesn't mean you have a business. It's certainly not sustainable. If you can't walk away from your business to practice some self-care, or take some time to "just be" then something's amiss.
If your business can't run for a time without you, then you're the problem, not the solution. (Tweet this)
Hire someone to look at the numbers and give you some ruthless honesty. Give yourself permission to get support in creating or delivering your offering. Maybe you're lousy at writing sales copy - get a copywriter. Maybe your training style doesn't resonate with your team, hire a pro. Don't force yourself to be everything to your company, or your company can't survive without you. The day you get sick (or worse) is the day the company goes under. That's not a profitable sustainable business. That's just crazypants.
How have you set yourself up for success? What are you doing to ensure that you're not the bottleneck in your business? Share what's working for you in the comments below so we can all learn from one another.
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