Advice for growing your small business without having no

I knew I needed to make a change after waking most mornings overwhelmed and anxious, unclear about the future, and basically feeling like I was being eaten alive by my business. If you are a small business owner, you can relate to spending most days, and often nights, troubleshooting issues, dealing with customers, catching up on paperwork, and feeling overwhelmed by the tasks you didn’t get to during the day. Like me, you may ask, “Is this really what I want to be doing with my life?  If so, how can this business grow sustainably without consuming me?”  Like me, you are facing a choice: Do I grow my business or scale it back? Below, I’ve outlined the five steps I took to grow my business.

Growing a business to achieve the next level is a huge task. We fear it for many reasons. For me, I often thought of my business as the underdog. We may think of ourselves as the underdog in a competitive environment, or we may have left the corporate world to avoid the bureaucracy created by big business. Sometimes, we may not want the responsibility for employees. And, who’s got time to find and train others? The reasons go on and on. We may have started our business with one product or service or one customer. We worked head down taking care of day-to-day operations and built a reputation that attracted more customers. Along the way we added more services. Before long, we found ourselves with a business that is hard to manage on our own.

Being a “solopreneur,” on the cusp of the next step, can be extremely difficult. It’s hard to think about next steps when one can barely make it through the day. Taking time to reflect and plan can help support your efforts by creating space for more of what you want to be doing. Be purposeful about building a sustainable business, and your goal won’t be as far off as you fear.

Planning doesn’t need to be lengthy or complicated. Here, is a simple template I used to summarize my plan and track my progress over the year—five simple steps to get you where you want to go, while keeping a healthy frame of mind.

Create space in your day

Schedule time away from day-to-day business for a few hours. Give yourself quiet, uninterrupted time to work on rather than in your business. Uninterrupted time can come in small chunks if you can’t afford to spend a whole day away. I often schedule the first 30 minutes of every Tuesday to focus on my plan. If weekends or evenings are better, then carve out time then. The key is to find pockets in your schedule when you can clear your head to focus on the bigger picture. One thing I’ve learned is that uninterrupted time, even in small increments, can net big results.

Reconnect with your mission and values

Reflect on your personal values, mission for the business, and vision for the next 3-5 years. Think about how you got here and why growing this business is important to you. If you started your business without developing these, it’s critical to do so now. Businesses grow in unanticipated directions leaving us dissatisfied and overwhelmed. Getting clear about your values and personal goals ensures you’re aligned with the growth path for your business.  The following questions are a good place to start:

  • What keeps me passionate about this business? What do I love about it?
  • What do I bring to this business? How are my personal values reflected in what we do/sell/ promote?
  • Where do I want to go with this business over the next 3 to 5 years? What excites me about the future possibilities? What do I not want to do?

Get real about current business performance

Review how well things are going with the business. This is not the time to sugarcoat what’s going on. Dig into your financials, sales, customer profile and reviews, product and service ratings, and so on. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • What’s going well. And what do we do best?
  • What can we improve or change?
  • What products and services are most popular? Why? What can we add and/or drop?

Look for inspiration and solutions

Learn by watching what your competitors are doing well and not so well. Consider how your company compares. Study market trends and observe what people are talking about and doing. Read industry journals for new developments in your field. What ideas and possibilities pop up for your business? What small tweaks or large innovations move you ahead of your competition?

Anchor your growth plan

Reflect on what you’ve learned through the steps, thus far. Try to summarize the highlights and connect the dots. Then, put your plan in writing guided by the top 3 to 5 themes. What actions, and concerns, surfaced through your planning process? The plan should be simple and brief. Remember that the plan is your roadmap and often has different paths to growth. Once you take the first step, be willing to readjust your actions to keep moving in the direction you want your business to grow.

Following this approach helped me realize that my business was driving me rather than the other way around. As was the case with my experience, a well thought-out plan can help you be intentional about where your business and your life are headed.

Lia Bosch is a founder, a managing partner, and a coach of Thrive People Strategies. She has been involved with organizational corporate culture and small businesses for 30 years.

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