Freedom, impact, creativity, and lifestyle… these are the main reasons that many business builders launch into working for themselves. But even with these great motivations, many will never get past survival mode. Sometimes, the work that got an entrepreneur to survival-mode (where you’re paying the bills but not much else), or even a little beyond, is more about hustling and maintaining the status quo.
The business builder that over-depends on ‘hustle mode’ is the business builder that’s headed for burnout. He’s too close to the action to look at things from a broader perspective. And because of this, he may never realize his full potential, let alone achieve any degree of freedom from his business endeavors.
Why Most Entrepreneurs Are Broke
After working with hundreds of entrepreneurs over the past few years, I’ve learned that most are making far less than they deserve to be making and working way harder than they need to be. In fact, many are making so little that they’re merely scraping by. It’s not that these entrepreneurs aren’t smart. It’s that they’ve blindly stumbled into creating a job for themselves and they don’t see a way out.
Most think that hustling is the answer but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
One of the most important concepts for any entrepreneur to grasp is this; Everything you’ve done to get where you are is EXACTLY what will keep you stuck there.
This might be great news or not-so-great news, it all depends on your perspective.
Those of us building service businesses normally see profit margins of between 50% – 80%. So even after reaching that coveted 6-figure mark, let’s say $125K per year in revenue, our business is left with between $60,000 to $100,000 in gross profit. That’s your financial reward for creating a “successful” $125k/year service business. That’s what you’ll have to show for it after all the hustling, hard work, headaches, and struggles.
But then you have to pay taxes. Let’s choose the middle ground from the example above and say that you’re left with $80k after expenses. You’ll need to pay at least 15% towards taxes. That leaves you with $68k leftover.
That’s a little over $5,000 a month for you to live on. And that doesn’t include putting any profits back into your business.
I don’t know about you, but this is barely enough to survive on if you’re living in most North American cities and you have a mortgage or pay rent and want to take your partner out to dinner every once in a while.
This will make some of your cringe. Others will become motivated and decide to double down on your efforts. And some of you may realize that the good job you left behind wasn’t so bad after all.
Here’s the good news! With the right focus, plan, and business model, you can methodically and intelligently build a meaningful business while also leading a rich life.
This is why I do what I do – help motivated and impact-driven business builders get beyond survival and fix the problem of being trapped in a business model that requires constant hustle.
And it’s because of my own struggles that I can speak so clearly, directly, and honestly about the four painful obstacles that might be blocking you from reaching your full potential.
Obstacle #1: Your Business Lacks Focus
If you’re like most business builders, you want to make a huge impact. With your big vision for impact, you likely started out trying to serve anyone and everyone. But when you do that, you’re setting yourself up to be on a perpetual hamster wheel of hustle.
Unless you are clearly defining your business and the clients you serve, you are a carbon copy of the next look-a-like in your space. In other words, you are a commodity by default unless you position your business otherwise.
You’ll APPEAR to have the same offer, the same message, the same everything as your competitors unless you carefully position your value.
We all have unfair advantages… but because you’re obsessing over keeping the lights on, you never get to highlight what makes you stand out. You choose to stay ‘vanilla’ with your message and not take a stand for something bold. This keeps you firmly established as a ‘me too’ solution where people aggressively price shop (since you look the same as everyone else).
Further, since you have no powerful identity, you have no control over how you are being perceived or differentiated by your prospective clients. Unless you clearly and boldly position yourself, your customers will form their own story about your business without you even having a say.
Without a highly focused niche, you have ZERO. COMPETITIVE. ADVANTAGE.
This calls for narrowing your focus – something that is simple but counterintuitive. It calls for staking out the smallest market you can imagine. The smallest market that can sustain you, the smallest market you can adequately serve. This goes against everything you learned in entrepreneur school, but in fact, it’s the simplest way to stand out.
When you have your eyes firmly focused on your smallest viable audience, you will double down on all the change you seek to make. Your quality, your story and your impact will all get better.
And then, ironically enough, the word will spread.
It’s easy to talk about, but difficult to put into practice. Just about every brand you care about, just about every organization that matters to you – this is how they got there. By focusing on just a few and ignoring the masses – at first.
And don’t worry. I’m not going to ask you to ditch everything you’ve done and completely shift your brand and your message overnight. That would be risky and I’m not one for taking too many risks.
Narrowing your focus is something you test and implement over time. Trust me on this one and watch your business transform quickly for the better.
Obstacle #2: You Rely on Pure “HUSTLE” to Get Clients
Messaging people on Facebook, asking for referrals, hosting another workshop, direct outreach by phone or LinkedIn, blasting your email list to “book a free strategy session.” None of these are inherently bad strategies but they will only take you so far.
And our minds usually tell us that the more we hustle, the more money we’ll make. And that’s true, up to a point. This is default mode for most service entrepreneurs that have organically grown from nothing to where they are today.
This is just fine. As long as you realize that the actions and strategies that you’ve used to get to this point are probably not going to allow you to move beyond it.
I had a 14-year career in B2B sales and business development, and I can confidently say that in order for you to have a great life and a great business, you must be able to systematically generate ideal clients. Without this ability, you’re done. You’re completely maxed out. And your business will never achieve any real sustainable or predictable growth or impact.
And if you think that running launch-after-launch, or promotion-after-promotion will save you… you’re asking for a mountain of infinite hustle. (Goodbye life!)
This calls for developing a strategic inbound and outbound marketing strategy. To break down the marketing jargon, an effective outbound marketing strategy is your proactive (short-term) approach to connecting with clients and moving them into your sales process.
This could involve setting up a simple outreach strategy for staying in touch with current and past clients and making sure they are aware of your latest offers.
An effective inbound marketing strategy is where you gain massive leverage over time. This is your proactive (long-term) approach to building and nurturing ideal clients while moving them into your sales process. This involves creating systems to educate and market to your ideal clients around the clock.
Creating an effective inbound marketing strategy involves building or leveraging a valuable asset. For example, setting up a high-value automated email sequence that educates your ideal clients on exactly how you can help them. The goal here is to showcase your unique value while bringing the client closer to realizing that YOU are the one to help them solve their big problem.
These two strategies working together will create a steady flow of ideal clients wanting to work with you. It’s one of the most critical steps you can do to stop hustling so hard and create a predictable and profitable business.
Obstacle #3: You’re Not Leveraging a Unique Process or Framework
I learned this lesson the hard way. I had built my entire business around my ability to show up and offer unique solutions for my clients. The only problem with this? I had to re-create everything from scratch every time I work with a new client!
Sure I had some similar processes I used with my clients but nothing that I was leveraging to create consistent results, over and over again.
Earlier this year I began testing a new framework. It’s a process I’ve developed that includes three primary focus areas with three unique elements in each focus area. I developed this framework as a result of dealing with my own struggles as a bootstrapped business builder in addition to helping my clients overcome the most common obstacles that keep them stuck in hustle-mode vs growth mode. I’ve integrated this framework into the Council of Visionary Business Builders, my peer-based coaching service for visionary service entrepreneurs.
Developing this framework has allowed me to serve my clients in a more predictable and scalable way.
It’s absolutely necessary for you to leverage your skills, experience, and assets to develop a model or framework that allows you to escape the time-for-dollars treadmill. That is, if you want to ever scale your business beyond YOU.
And in the process of doing this, you’ll most likely develop a whole new level of confidence about serving your clients while delivering consistent results to them.
Have you ever noticed that some of the preeminent leaders in any given market almost always have a specific model or framework that they are known for?
Marie Forleo has B-School
Todd Herman has 90-Day Year
Seth Godin has altMBA
Sally Hogshead has How to Fascinate
Eric Ries has The Lean Startup
I could go on and on. I think you get the picture. It’s defining and leveraging your unique process (your way of doing things) that will allow you to HAVE a business instead BEING the business.
It’s important to know that creating a unique model or framework doesn’t happen overnight but it’s the thing that will give you the leverage, sustainability and predictability you desire.
Image if all your business expenses and personal salary were covered by a single flagship product or service that allowed you to deliver consistent results almost every time. This is the key element for creating the leverage needed to obtain any level of freedom, impact and lifestyle from your business.
Today, all of my clients go through a process of identifying their assets and creating a unique system or framework to help serve their clients in a more consistent and predictable way. It’s a powerful step in creating a business model that will allow you to increase your value and deliver your transformation at scale.
Obstacle #4: Your Business Model is a Mismatch
Contrary to the culture of what (insert your industry) wants you to believe… your business doesn’t need to be defined by what others are doing. The quicker you can evolve your business to match your lifestyle preferences, the happier and more successful you will become.
This is another lesson I learned the hard way.
For years, I was on what I now like to call the “1:1 coaching treadmill.” I would enroll clients into a 1:1 coaching program that was a reflection of what others in my industry were doing. And by all accounts, I should have been happy. I had a full coaching practice most of the time and my clients were paying me good money. Heck, I had built my 1:1 coaching business to just under $200k per year.
So why was I feeling frustrated?
There were two reasons. Reason number one was that I wasn’t bringing all of ME to my work. I was leaving important things out, things that I knew I needed to include to feel whole in my work and offer my best to my clients. One of the visions I had for helping my clients included a peer-to-peer coaching experience where they could benefit and learn from one another, not just me.
Another vision I had was to provide an adventure retreat experience for my clients. I knew that if I could get them into the outdoors and engage them in a new and/or challenging activity that this would open them up to new levels of creativity and unlock ideas that might not otherwise surface.
Reason number two was that I was feeling constrained by the levels of effort and energy required to make a certain level of income. I stepped away from a high paying career and I wanted to earn at least as much doing work I loved.
Today, my coaching services are a unique blend of how I can most powerfully serve my clients in a fun, sustainable, and profitable way. One of my offers allows me to serve visionary business builders in a peer-to-peer group mentorship that includes an adventure retreat as part of the experience. And I no longer feel the pressure of needing to work with 1:1 clients unless it’s an absolute blast for me and for the client.
This model is far from perfect and there will likely be another big shift in my business model this year. Continuing to evolve my business to increase my value, increase my ability to grow my impact and my income, and have a lot of fun is something I’m committed to. Even though it requires a ton of uncertainty, trust and experimentation.
Most service entrepreneurs make the mistake of looking around their industry to see what everyone else is doing and then they end up with a watered-down version of a business that leaves them feeling a little empty and uninspired.
The most elegant way to grow a transformational service business is to consciously evolve it in a way that honors the elements of time, money, freedom and impact.
Doing this will require you to think strategically + wholeheartedly while unapologetically acknowledging your desires, preferences, and constraints.
You’ll want to simplify your business model to deliver your deepest level of transformation in a way that increases your value for your ideal clients. You will want to consider consolidating your products or services into a leveraged flagship offer that can drive 60% to 80% of your total revenue. This flagship offer will be where all roads in your business lead to. Your flagship offer should ideally meet the following requirements:
- Be rooted in your strengths,
- Be structured with the ability to sell it all the time (i.e. no launches)
- Be streamlined to serve you smallest viable audience in a leveraged but personalized way,
- Be built around your unique process or framework,
- Be simple to deliver,
- Be your best work for your best clients.
Well, there you have it. If you evolve your business in a way that allows you to avoid these four obstacles, you will be setting yourself up for crushing it in your market while having a business that feels liquid, flexible, and fun.