Every startup founder I know talks about the chaos of their business, which they usually attribute to that burst of growth that is required to get to positive cash flow. They envision a stable environment after that point, and may have convinced themselves that they will be safer and happier with a livable income, maintaining a loyal but flat customer base.
Sadly, this false perception often leads to the death of their business, or at least the end of their tenure as CEO. I “second the message” that chaos never subsides, from a couple of successful entrepreneurs, Clate Mask and Scott Martineau, in their book “Conquer the Chaos.” Your only choice is to live with it, and find a way to conquer it.
Some small business owners hope to reduce stress by keeping their business static, and believe that they can rely on referrals and repeat business to keep a consistent customer set. Even with this, there are important reasons why not innovating, or going into maintenance mode, will lead to your demise:
Competitors swoop in and take your space. There are always people around with deeper pockets that can find synergy between your space and theirs. Once they see you have developed credible traction, they can grab your space with less cost (meaning lower price) than you had to put into developing it. Don’t count on your IP to save you.
Employees stop innovating. Employees are human, and a static known environment is more comfortable than a dynamic one. Innovation requires venturing into the unknown, causing more dreaded chaos. The easiest way to reduce chaos is to buffer all your activities (slow down), define safer generic processes, which spiral down productivity.
Your products quickly become outdated. Change is the only constant in a successful business. Technology keeps improving at a rapid rate, so you fall behind in technology, driving costs up, and you become non-competitive.
Your income drops. With decreased employee productivity and outdated technology, your costs go up, and income drops. Even great entrepreneurs are amazed at how fast this can lead to a non-recoverable situation.
The only real solution is to conquer the chaos, while continually expanding your reach into the available market, and into the improvements in technology. Conquering chaos requires two key strategies:
Mindset strategy. Your mindset is your emotional capital, bolstered by disciplined optimism and entrepreneurial independence. These give you the capacity to grow your business without getting consumed by it. You need to find ways to replenish these on a regular basis, and find your balance of pain versus rewards to keep your company vital.
System strategies. These are the processes and tools you implement to grow your business and keep it running smoothly and profitably. Key ones include centralization, automation, and follow-up. Again, balance is the key, with some measurements along the way to keep you on track.
Even after you bring chaos under control, you face an ongoing challenge to avoid back-sliding. Once your systems are in place, you have to give yourself the time you are saving. Make sure your own ambition doesn’t send you back into chaos. Don’t fall for the belief that your business will fail without you. Relax, let go, and enjoy the freedom you have earned.