The best part of being an entrepreneur is having the independence to make your own decisions, the flexibility for a better work/life balance, and personal satisfaction from driving change. But nobody said it would be easy. The road to business success is filled with challenges and frustrations that most aspiring entrepreneurs never even imagined.
In my role as advisor to many startups, I try to prepare them for the inevitable bumps in the road ahead, as well as to provide practical guidance on how to build and maintain the traction needed to survive and prosper. Of course, experiences and failures are the best teachers, but I find that learning from other people’s experiences is a much faster and less painful approach.
In his classic book on building a business, "Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business," Gino Wickman, a similar experienced business consultant and developer of the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS), outlines five common frustrations that we both hear from entrepreneurs, as follows:
- You are the boss, but you don't have control. You don't have enough control over your time, investors, the market, or your startup. Instead of controlling the business, the business is controlling you. By definition, the world of startups today is one of rapidly changing unknowns, where the inputs you receive will often conflict. It’s very frustrating.
- All the constituents have their own agenda. You continually get frustrated with your team members, customers, vendors, and partners. They all have their own objectives and priorities, and don’t seem to listen, understand you, or follow through with their actions. You only expected that kind of a challenge from your competitors.
- Persistent profit and cash flow shortages. Simply put, there’s frustratingly never enough profit or cash. Even when orders are clearly on the upswing, you need more funding to cover inventory and lagging accounts receivable. Then there are the expenses you never could have anticipated, driving down margins.
- Constantly bumping your head on the growth ceiling. No matter what you do, you can’t seem to break through and get to the next level. Your growth has stopped, and you feel frustrated and unsure what to do next. You never have the time and resources for International expansion, acquisitions, venture capital investors, or going public.
- Conventional strategies don’t seem to work for you. You have tried all the popular initiatives and quick-fix remedies, including social media, search engine optimization, and content marketing. None have worked for long, and as a result, your staff has become numb to new strategies. You are spinning your wheels, and need traction to move again.
My first answer to all these frustrations is to step back and focus on the basics. Every great business is made up of a core group of key components. Wickman outlines six of these in his book as the Entrepreneurial Operating System for success:
- Vision - Communicate a compelling image to everyone describing where the business is going, and how it’s going to get there.
- People - Surround yourself with great people. You can’t build a great company without help. It’s having the right people in the right seats.
- Data - Define a handful of key metrics to free you from managing personalities, egos, subjective issues, emotions, and intangibles.
- Issues - Constantly provide updates and direction on the challenges and obstacles that must be overcome to execute on your vision.
- Process - These describe your way of completing each key element of your business. Each must be documented clearly and refined regularly.
- Traction - Entrepreneurs gain traction by executing well, with focus, accountability, and discipline.
There is no magic here, and none of the six key components is rocket science. In my experience, entrepreneurs who are highly frustrated in their startup have overlooked or have dropped their attention to one of the six basic business components. Learn from the frustrations of other entrepreneurs, or you are doomed to relive their pain. Put your entrepreneurial operating system in place, and you too can trade in your frustrations and join that select group who enjoy making their own decisions, achieve their work/life balance, and relish the personal satisfaction of their dreams.