Most people don’t think outside of the box. At least they don’t for themselves. Sometimes they can come up with crazy, no risk no reward, ideas for others, but put their money where their own risk is, forget that.
Business coaches, of which I am one, do this all of the time. They help all of these other people come up with great ideas for their business. They tell others with confidence how they need to step out in faith. They even can create detailed how-to plans for you to set up your business for success. While they stay neatly inside their own four 20 foot high walls that box them in.
I do it, even though I really try not to.
I even challenge others like me to make sure they are following their own advice about their area of specialty. I wrote about it in The Cobbler’s Kids Should Wear Shoes.
Why do we create walls for ourselves that are higher than the walls we see for anyone else? Do we just lack faith that almost anything is possible?
Getting Boxed In
When we are stuck thinking ‘inside the box’ we can’t see or think outside the box. We are often blind to our best opportunities. Here’s a true story:
I started working with a company that started out providing consulting in the field that the founder had worked in for 30 years. One day they obtained a huge job so he hired a bunch of people to get the job done.
After that job there was no plan. Now he had all of these people yet the business model was based on his expertise as a specialist. None of the people he hired had his expertise.
Since it was all they knew they tried to go out and sell more consulting. They picked up a little training. They placed a couple of people out on jobs with some clients. Soon they were doing a little bit of everything, yet losing money. The people on the team didn’t have the right skills and the business itself had no foundation.
This went on for 2 years.
After many meetings and discussions it was obvious to me. They needed to niche in one of the areas that they provided service. The area was the least technical. This part was really obvious since most of them didn’t have any technical skills.
When I first brought it up, they thought I was crazy. This isn’t what we do. We specialize in this area of expertise. No you don’t. Your dad does. The dad was the expert. He was the only one who could actually do consulting.
How are we going to get people to see us in this new niche? That is easy. We are going to change your name, build a new website, create processes and procedures to run this new business, cut tons of expenses on all of this stuff we are just dabbling in and focus everyone in the company on this one thing.
Blank stares all around.
Since they didn’t have a better plan, they came around quickly. Three years later they have been very profitable every year and are now looking at how to grow to the next level.
The very nature of being IN a box, is that you can’t see what is OUT of the box. They literally couldn’t imagine creating a whole new business while maintaining the profitable part of the old business.
This was a pretty drastic change for them. It took an outsider to show them what they couldn’t see, and faith to step out of that box – that comfort zone – that trap.
Sometimes even if you can see beyond your box, it can be too scary to really take the leap. We often end up, instead, taking a half measure. Or worse, creating our own obstacles to growth by making fear-based decisions.
I experience this a lot in clients building their team. Small business owners started a business out usually on a shoe string budget. Even when they become successful, it is hard to get out of the fearful, scarcity mentality.
When they get to the point that they need to hire someone they usually play it ‘safe’ with one of these scarcity strategies:
- Let me get my neighbor or sister to fill in. This isn’t rocket science. I just need a little help.
- I definitely need a new salesman, accountant, (fill in the blank), but there is no way I am paying for a high level person. I didn’t start out making that kind of money and I am the owner.
- I needed someone quick and they said they could do the job.
My philosophy that I am about to share may seem like common sense, but do you do it? Be honest, you probably don’t. Why? It costs money. It is scary. It is a leap of faith.
I recommend investing in the best person you can find for whatever position you are hiring.
Think about it. Who wants a cheap sales person. If a sales person is willing to come to work for no money then he probably isn’t a good sales person. You want a sales person that is used to making $100,000 a year or more. You want to make sure he or she has performed somewhere else and can prove it by their W2. It is one of those show me the money positions.
The deal is that if they really are a good sales person they will make over $100,000 per year but so will you. Sales people, at least good ones, pay for themselves.
The same is true for other positions too. If you hire a bookkeeper instead of an accountant you are planning to stay small. To get big you need accurate and timely information. You need your receivables collected so you have cash flow. You need to pay your people and your vendors on time. Yes book keepers can do many of the tasks, but most of them don’t know if something is getting royally messed up in your books.
What happens when you don’t have the right accounting help?
You mess up taxes and pay really big fines. If you don’t pay your payroll taxes that will garnish your checking account quickly.
You do a ton of work but you don’t bill timely or correctly so you don’t get paid for the work you have already done or you have to spend money for an expert to come in and clean up the mess and help you collect the money.
You can’t make the decision to hire the $100,000 sales person because you can’t tell if you are really making money because the information is all in the wrong accounts and no one can figure it out, especially not you the owner who dropped accounting 101 twice and finally changed your major so you didn’t need it.
It is imperative, even more so when you are a small company, to hire really great people. You need to hire over qualified people that the company can grow into. When you only have 5 or 10 employees, every poor hiring decision makes a huge percentage of your business ineffective. And usually that one ineffective person is 100% of a given area of a small business because we haven’t grown to have backup yet.
You saw the need – you were not blind to it, but because of fear, you end up creating walls that stand in your way and keep you from growing, instead of taking the leap of faith that will truly meet the need and help you grow.
So we have discussed two ways that small business owners create their own limiting walls.
They keep doing what they are doing, even if it isn’t working. They can’t imagine totally re-inventing their business.
They invest in limited people for their team which creates walls of limitations that the limited people can’t help break through.
What else have I seen small businesses do that limits their businesses opportunities and gets them seriously stuck?
- Do it yourself marketing that has no message or branding. They do it to save money but marketing is supposed to make money. If their marketing doesn’t have a message and they aren’t building their brand then all they have is an expense. It is a waste of money.
- Waiting to put systems and processes in place because they are small and they think they don’t need them yet. Unfortunately, they don’t realize that once they are big it is a nightmare to put systems in place and without them their growth stops. They get stuck and you can’t figure out why everything feels like you are recreating the wheel each day.
- Continue working IN their business and not making the time to work ON their business. This results in only growing as far as they can personally stretch.
- Ignore the soft skills of leadership. Anyone who is a small business owner is a leader. It’s just as important to be good at leadership as it is to be an expert in your business.
I know it is challenging to think outside of the box, to leap over high walls, and to get unstuck when you are wearing so many hats and working so hard. It is scary to step into new territory – like a leap of faith.
But, this is exactly where Christian business owners should realize that we have a distinct advantage.
The Christian Advantage
Our advantage is this: We know we are not alone.
More importantly, we (hopefully) know that we are not in control.
We know that we can depend on God to be for us.
How does that help?
- We limit our worry trusting that Jesus has our back.
- We focus on our Christian values and know that this builds a strong foundation for our business.
- We know we have a big God and that nothing is impossible.
He frees us from our limiting walls. He cannot fit in our box.
We trust Him and follow Him.
And our faith brings us peace.
Peace even if as we step out of our limiting boxes and take big leaps over our self-imposed walls.
We not only have a vision for our business, we have a God vision.