We all know that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. No left or right turns. No detours. When entrepreneurs set out on the path to business success, many people also assume that road is a straight one. That may be the case for a lucky few, but for most of us the journey is filled with twists, turns, and detours.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but you have to be adept at traveling the twisted path to success. I’ve met too many entrepreneurs who are so blindly focused on the end goal in front of them that they pass up the great opportunities that might be waiting along the side paths.
My business, SMB Connects, is a great example. When we created our initial business plan earlier this year, we had a clear vision of where we were headed. We wanted to be the company that connected entrepreneurs to the big businesses that wanted to market to them. It was going to be all about research and consulting. And then, before we even officially opened our doors, my phone rang. Someone (a big business to be sure, just not the kind we thought would be beating a path to our door) wanted to hire us to write a column and do some blogging for them. Then a breakfast with an old colleague led to a similar opportunity.
This wasn’t part of our plan. We hadn’t planned on being content providers, even though my partners and I have a long editorial history. We weighed our options. Stick to the original plan (which promised a big payoff eventually) or go where the immediate money was? Without hesitation we strayed off the original plan and went for the ready money. And a pattern was formed. It wasn’t necessarily a bad pattern, but it kept taking us farther off our charted path.
Just this week, we sat down to talk about what we’d done and where we were headed. Should we abandon Plan A and stick with Plan B? After all, we were making good money and enjoying ourselves. If all this sounds a little familiar to you, I suggest you ask yourself the same question. And realize there’s no wrong answer. As the old Yiddish proverb says, “Man makes plans, and God laughs.” But it’s a good idea to actually set aside the time to mull it all over. This is something too many entrepreneurs don’t do. We’re so busy running our businesses, or scrambling to make a sale or a connection, that we rarely stop to take notice of what we’re actually doing.
There are many options that can emerge from this simple exercise. Do you drop Plan B (even though it’s making you money) and return to Plan A? Do you abandon Plan A and stick with B? You could even come up with a Plan C or D. In our case we realized we didn’t want to give up our original goal. Nor were we willing to stop following Plan B. So we incorporated Plan B into Plan A, and now our original scope is not only broader, but it carries the promise of an even bigger payoff.
I recently met an entrepreneur who achieved relatively quick success. But when her business (and the economy) hit a bump, she was so focused on the road straight ahead, she couldn’t navigate the curve. As a consequence, she might lose everything she’s built and a lot of money as well. Instead of pausing every now and then to do a quick reassessment, she now has to come up with an emergency plan just to stay afloat.
Of course, you can take this too far. An entrepreneurial friend of mine seems to be constantly restructuring his business goals. One day he wants to be X, and the next day he wants to be Y or Z. This won’t work either. At some point you’ve got to stick with a plan long enough to see if you can make it work.
This can be hard for entrepreneurs. The possibilities never stop running through your head. Just last week the son of a successful entrepreneur (in a family-owned and run business) told me, “My dad’s a typical entrepreneur. He has an epiphany every five minutes.” But their company continues to thrive, even in this tough economic environment.
But the difference between this nimble entrepreneur and the one who is constantly restructuring his business goals is that the former has a strong staff surrounding him. People who aren’t afraid to talk back, to challenge his notions and even make him defend those ideas. The other business owner has no employees, so there’s no one there to question his actions.
I realize that not all of you can afford staff or have partners to consult with. That’s why it’s essential, no matter the size of your business, to have a trusted board of advisors you can turn to. It doesn’t have to be formal and you don’t even have to have regular meetings. But you need access to people you respect and who aren’t afraid to question your decisions. You don’t have to follow their advice, but you do have to slow down long enough to listen.
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