Like most small business owners, I started my entrepreneurial quest with the idea that hard work, good organization, careful management, and controlled growth would one day all coincide in a beautiful "eureka moment" after which everything would somehow be smooth sailing.
Eight years later, I am still waiting for that moment. Don't get me wrong. I have gotten close enough to glimpse what it might be to experience that well-oiled machine scenario, but like a mirage, it always disappears, leaving me disappointed and exasperated.
In order to protect my health and safeguard my desire to continue the entrepreneurial struggle, I recently got real with myself, and admitted this perfection I had been striving for was not only unlikely to happen, but probably very boring to experience.
With that in mind, I set about taking these leadership frustrations in stride and owning them. So if you are making yourself crazy with the idea that your business is "almost" where it needs to be, follow these three tips to help you regain perspective.
Human resources is all about evolution.
There is no such thing as getting a perfect mix of people to make your business work. I have had employees I was ready to fire end up becoming top earners, just because we hit on the right formula to turn around their performances. Some of my best staff members suddenly became problems when another (otherwise qualified) person joined our team, bringing with her a Pandora's box of interpersonal issues. When these shifts unfolded, they made me throw my hands in the air. But I have since learned that the best way to measure this crucial part of my business is not to force some idealized organizational model but instead to accept the constantly-evolving nature of staff dynamics, and even org charts. Knowing who on my team is happy, who is frustrated, who is respected, and who is disliked, also tells me who is able to deliver, who needs help, and who may need to move on. Rather than trying desperately to keep all positions filled at all costs, I shifted my focus to getting the right people in the right roles. This has meant adjusting people's jobs, leaving positions vacant longer than I would have liked, and even cross-training. My willingness to be open to constant organizational change, has actually helped me both to retain excellent people, as well as, I believe, to be a more flexible manager--and ultimately a calmer business owner.
Not every customer is meant to be your customer.
No matter how much you try to convert every client you court into a customer, it won't always happen and sometimes, for good reason. I once went after the business of a large retail chain, only to decide after several orders that the business was not worth having because the company's executives saw Metal Mafia as a mere vendor rather than a partner, and were prepared to crush us financially anytime it benefitted the chain. I have also made the mistake of allocating some of our resources to a line of products I thought might help bring in a different type of customer, just to find that that type of customer necessitated a restocking structure we could not accommodate. Rather than attempt to be everything to everyone, I now focus on growing our business with the right customers. Those are companies who can get real value from our products, and recognize that the relationship has to be mutually beneficial. The right customers are willing to tell you when you have done something well, but also when you could do something better. Establishing those criteria and letting go of the need to win every customer for the sheer numbers game has made me better able to remain focused on the quality, rather than the quantity, of our transactions.
The best catalyst for innovation? Discomfort.
I have literally sat at my desk wanting to bang my fists in frustration when our most important shipment of the year got stuck, without reason, at its originating port. I have considered walking out the door, and never coming back, when we faced the monumental task of reconstituting an entire month of our transactions because our system crashed without a recent back-up. While my initial reactions were colored by desperation and disillusionment, the truth is, those moments of adversity made my business better because they forced me to think outside the box and find alternatives and fail-safes. Get used to coming up with better ways to operate as you operate.
I am no longer interested in achieving some sort of dream business that runs itself. I prefer to continue digging my heels in and pushing forward the best I can. The day the challenges stop is the day I'll look for a new job.