Just before Christmas, I performed an intervention on a friend’s online business. He had been going round and round in circles for nearly three years. He would see something that someone else was doing, try to emulate it, work out that it wasn’t going to work for him, complain bitterly, stop doing it and then three months later start the whole cycle over again.
It was like watching a dog chase its own tail.
One evening I was out walking and he called me to tell me how he was going to start working on this new product. He was very excited. I asked him if this wasn’t the same thing he’d done a few months earlier and he replied that it was similar, but he now knew where he went wrong before. I pressed further and asked if this wasn’t actually the third time he was trying this and of course it was, but he swore he’d learned his lesson.
It was kind of an inflexion point for me. I could have simply wished him well, but I chose the harder path and called him out on his silly behaviour. In fact, I told him that he was a bit like a dog going back to lick up its own vomit.
That’s when the frustration reached the breaking point and he told me how his business had become difficult to manage and grow with his current strategy. He talked about how he was losing confidence in his ability to be successful. The work that he enjoyed had become mundane and the quality was suffering because he wasn’t happy.
These little dalliances he was having with trying new things was simply escapism. He was looking for a cure to an underlying problem that he didn’t really want to address. The new things were wishful thinking and a distraction from the bigger problems.
I made him take a timeout.
My suggestion was that he do a business triage.
If you’re not familiar with the term triage, it’s what emergency medical workers do when they get a new patient. They assess the damage, assign it an urgency level, then start fixing the problems in order of the most critical onwards in an effort to stabilise the patient’s situation.
That’s what he needed to do in his business. Fundamentally, there was nothing seriously wrong with his business, but there were some parts that were critically broken that led him to this emergency situation. He needed to stem the bleeding, get those under control and then work out a longer-term plan.
His big problem was that he’d bought into the whole “do what you love” nonsense that fluffpreneurs promote. This created the problem that he worked hard on the bits of the business that he really liked, but the day to day grind stuff was spoiling his passion. He would consistently try to inject more passion pieces into the business in an effort to gloss over and distract himself from the things he disliked doing.
We spent a couple hours on the phone going through it, figuring out ways to break the bad habits and focusing on doing the hard bits that weren’t fun rather just ignoring them. It was part confidence building and part dressing down. He needed to be told that his behaviour was stupid and damaging his business, but at the same time, he needed to realise that he had a strong underlying business.
Ultimately, we identified three or four things that he needed to change straight away, get those changes bedded in and then look at the whole thing.
Six months later, he had the best half year he’s ever had.
I’d like to take credit for his success, but the truth is, he’s a smart guy with a very good head for business, but like all of us, he would sometimes lose sight of the forest for the trees and bad habits would creep in. And again, like many of us, those bad habits are often when it comes to our business, things that we enjoy doing.
My suggestion is, if you find your business stagnating or making the same mistakes repeatedly that you go into triage mode and look critically at your business. Be ruthless and dig into what you’re doing – find those things that are causing the massive internal bleeding and clamp them off. My experience is that almost every recurring problem is the result of a series of small problems that collectively build up to these issues. The triage sessions let you identify the issues and take some kind of emergency action to stabilise the problems.
Once you’ve stabilised the issues, which in business can often be as simple as identifying them, then you can take a more holistic view of how to fix them permanently. Having achieved this, you’ll gain confidence, have a stronger online business and be more able to meet the challenges ahead.