Biz 101: Straight Talk for Struggling Business Owners

In her new book, author Suzanne Evans points out that you, and you alone, are the source of your success or failure

So you seized your dream and started your own business. That’s the good news. Yet no matter how much you analyze your budget, tweak your advertising and make yourself available to customers and community alike, you can’t seem to make headway. Is it the economy? Or is the universe conspiring against you?

According to business consultant Suzanne Evans, your problem isn’t bad luck, bad breaks or even a bad economy. It’s you. “Before you can hope to change your company’s fortunes, you have to first change yourself,” writes Evans, in her new book, The Way You Do Anything Is the Way You Do Everything: The Why of Why Your Business Isn’t Making More Money (Wiley, $22). “Business acumen doesn’t matter as much as who you are and how you play the game.”

 

Ingredients for Success

Evans speaks from experience. In just five short years, she transformed herself from a dissatisfied secretary in a dead-end job to the owner of a business-coaching firm that is on the Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing companies. She says that only three things separate yesterday’s burned-out secretary from today’s on-fire entrepreneur: a willingness to recognize and own her mistakes, a desire to improve, and unrelenting attention to every single detail.

“I realized that if I changed the way I did things, those things would inevitably change,” Evans recounts. “It’s true for you, too. Your profits mirror your choices. Your success mirrors your commitment. Your cash flow is a reflection of the consistency in everything in your life.”

In her book, Evans uses her signature blend of honesty, sarcasm and humor to help readers develop a brand new mindset that will help them change their lives, businesses and finances forever. Here she shares 10 inconvenient but ironclad truths that all business owners should take to heart.

 

1. The way you do anything is the way you do everything. Most of us approach life with the belief that as long as we get the major stuff right, it’s okay to let the little stuff slide. As long as you get the shipment out in time, it’s okay to leave a few voicemails unanswered. As long as you don’t actually lose anything, it’s okay if your files are disorganized. But you’re deluding yourself: Your attitude about the little stuff says a lot about your overall approach.

“Stop telling yourself that ‘good enough’ is acceptable or that the little things don’t matter,” writes Evans. “It’s not and they do. It’s all those little details that add up to who you are.”

 

2. Emotions are worthless. They really don’t do you any favors when you’re trying to grow a business. If your motivation and enthusiasm are tied to feeling the warm-and-fuzzies, you’re dead in the water, because there are a lot of disappointments and challenges ahead—even if your business is on the path to success.

“You don’t have time to mope all afternoon when you receive an email from an unhappy customer,” points out Evans. “You have to keep moving forward and making smart decisions—and to do that, you need to stop giving your energy to unhelpful emotions.”

 

3. You only think you’re a special snowflake (and that belief is what’s dragging you down). Problems don’t make you unique, says Evans; they make you the same as everyone else who has problems—and that’s all of us! So stop using your “differences” to justify your lack of success.

 

4. Playing it safe is for wimps. A lot of entrepreneurs have a “better safe than sorry” mindset. They follow the rules, avoid the risks and accept mediocrity as the price of stability. They aren’t willing to gamble the way things are for the way they’d like them to be. But as Evans points out, “There is no such thing as wild success without going out on some shaky-looking limbs. Yes, taking a chance at failing might feel scary—but often, that’s the only way to succeed.

 

5. No, you don’t have what it takes to do it all. In some ways, entrepreneurs are the ultimate narcissists. They tend to tell themselves that no one is as smart, as capable or as caring as they are. As a result, they suffer from “founder syndrome”: They can’t do all the work of running a business alone, but they don’t have enough faith in anyone else to do it, so they get stuck. “No one has what it takes to run a business single-handedly,” says Evans. “Ultimately, you have to take a leap of faith. Hire the smartest, most capable people you can and trust them to support you.”

 

6. There is no such thing as “right” and “wrong.” Thinking about your business in terms of right/wrong, good/bad, pass/fail isn’t helpful. There is no failsafe way forward; everything is a lesson waiting to be learned. “What’s right for someone else may not be right for you,” Evans writes, “so stop worrying about getting it right or doing it wrong. Throw the rules out the window and do what you think is best for your business.”

 

7. Yes, you can spend your way to success. If you’ve been nodding along up to this point, here’s where Evans admits she might lose you: Sometimes, money—more money than you’re comfortable spending—is what it takes to jolt your business out of the mediocrity rut.

“I’ve overinvested and overspent on my business many times over the years,” she admits. “When I saw opportunities from sponsorship to hiring, I grabbed them, regardless of whether the expense was ‘prudent’ or success was guaranteed. And I’ve rarely had any regrets.”

 

8. The world needs to know your ugly stepsister story. A lot of people believe their personal lives—especially their mistakes—don’t have a place in their businesses. They paste a canned bio on their websites; the stories they tell clients are scrubbed and sanitized. But according to Evans, the fascinating stuff—the stuff that enables you to connect and really care about someone—comes when you know their real story. “Don’t tell the Cinderella version of your story,” she urges. “Tell the ugly stepsister one. It’s the best thing you can use to encourage your clients to find their own success. People will connect to your mess and your pain, and they’ll want to do business with you.”

 

9. You don’t know as much as you think you do. When you believe that you know it all and you’re ahead of the pack, you don’t leave much room for learning more. And in an age where competency is no longer enough, that’s the kiss of death. “You can’t be merely good at what you do; you need to be excellent and maintain your excellence by continuously studying your craft,” says Evans. “If you don’t actively seek to develop and deepen your skill set, you are severely limiting yourself. Reaching excellence is a choice. It’s what makes you better equipped than anyone else to serve your clients.”

 

10. Goofing off will help you succeed. When you’re building a business, it can feel like you’re constantly under the tyranny of the to-do list. Taking a break or a vacation seems like outright blasphemy. Do it anyway. “On a daily basis, I recommend closing your email and doing something fun every few hours,” says Evans. “Every three to four months, you should take entire days off to do something you love. You’ll actually get more ideas and answers from shutting down your to-dos than you will from driving yourself relentlessly.”

 

The Sky’s the Limit

“As entrepreneurs, we have an amazing opportunity to shape the world, but we can do it only through expanding our thought processes,” Evans concludes. “Every success I’ve had, and every success you will have, is a reflection of your ability to expand your knowledge, change your approach and adapt. It is not a reflection of your MBA, your invention or even your past success, but of what you bring to the table. In other words, your business is you. So it’s time to face the truth and get on track.”

 

 

Evans Book Jacket

Author Suzanne Evans is the founder of Suzanne Evans Coaching, which provides support, consulting and business development skills coaching to women entrepreneurs. Her book, The Way You Do Anything Is the Way You Do Everything: The Why of Why Your Business Isn’t Making More Money (Wiley, $22), is available at bookstores nationwide, from major online booksellers, and direct from the publisher by calling 800-225-5945.

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