The Harsh Reality of Running a Business

Yesterday a very well respected entrepreneur, Rand Fishkin, put out a very personal post on his struggle with depression over the past 12 months and it’s affects on his ability to run his business, although deeply personal and very open, it resonated with me for a variety of reasons. In fact, it something that resonates with me because of how close to home it hits.

Being an Entrepreneur

Perhaps the hardest and loneliest job you’ll have, yet the most exciting and rewarding as well. It’s frankly the craziest experience that words can hardly adequately describe in a way that many will understand or appreciate. I think what was special about his post was the honesty, his revelation of all that is good and bad with being at the top of your business.

Depression is actually very common I think amongst entrepreneurs. It has to be I think, you have this constant need to portray a specific image to the outside world, including your family. The reality is, no one really wants to hear the struggles. Everyone is for the Ups, oh yes they are, the money is coming in, the clients are signing up, mostly positive feedback, social media isn’t beating you up, but how quickly that can all change.

It’s so easy to sit on the sidelines and say, well if you would have done this, you would have reached a bigger audience. If you had hit that milestone, you would have captured the market sooner. Your pricing is wrong.. it should be this. Your customer service should be better and faster, why are you so slow?

Nobody however wants to get into the intricate details. The process of hiring, or even firing. The constant issues that seem to come from all angles, from the simple things as employees disappearing, to processing issues with Credit Card processors or legal suits from clients. Each issue varying for everyone, both in complexity and impact to your respective business.

Then there is the reality of growth if you’re lucky. Lucky because it’s never a guarantee, you could have the best product, pretties website, and yet never grow. The word never gets out, the buy is never there, or you’re too early or late to market. The constant decisions you make have the potential for catastrophic impacts, and those impacts increase exponentially as your business grows.

Here are four take-aways from that post and the things I find myself contemplating as I read it, over and over again…

Indecisiveness is a Poison

I learned this long ago, specifically in my days as a Marine. There is something that is instilled you as a Marine, You Stop, You Die, You Move, you Live.

Yes, a bit over dramatic, I agree, at least in business, not so much in combat, but it instilled the discipline of decision making.

Make not mistake about it, making decisions is a discipline. I have known, and know, many people incapable of making a decision. What they fail to realize however is how much of a poison that is to their organization. You have those that are incapable of a decision because they fear it will be the wrong one, or those that want consensus to avoid accountability, or even those that can’t make a decision because they are too caught up in the things they can’t control (you know, the What If scenarios).

If you are bestowed the responsibility of being a Leader, whether running an organization, team, family, do them a favor, make a decision. It’s your responsibility, right, wrong, it’s indifferent. What matters is that you move, they will follow.

Your ability to Adapt will Set You Apart

One of the things I truly enjoyed about the write up was that constant reflection on himself – a process known as self actualization.

What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualization…It refers to the desire for self-fulfillment, namely, to the tendency for him to become actualized in what he is potentially. This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.

Abraham Maslow’s Hieararchy

This applies to men and women alike and goes well beyond business, but it’s essential in business I think. I think as leaders we have a responsibility to look beyond our own crap. When the doors are closed, when the spot light is off, we need to be asking ourselves the tough questions. We need to be drilling ourselves, are we right for this job? Are we put the best us forward and am I failing my company, my team, and my family?

If you are unable to look on yourself, and honestly answer those questions, then you are failing yourself. Rand did this, for that I admire him. He was able to see his weaknesses clearer than anyone else was wiling to disclose it to him. That is a very powerful thing, something we should all strive to achieve – clarity of mind, clarity in self-observance and hold ourselves to a higher standard than anyone else.

With Growth The World Changes

Life at 3 is Very Different than Life at 40 + as I’m sure it’s different at 100, 200 and beyond. By this I mean personal. Understand that the harsh reality is that as your company grows, you might no longer be the best person to lead it. The manager you hired to set up a group, might not be the best manager. You might have to make the toughest decisions in your life, replace or remove responsibilities from those that you have entrusted to carry your flag.

It’s imperative though, when you are a leader you must make a decision. You must keep your company first and foremost, and once you have established your vision, and you are set on the course, you stay true to the goal.

Life will get exponentially more complex with growth. By far, the biggest will be the weight of employees. Obviously not the literal weight, although it might feel that way. No, I mean the responsibility for their well-being. The part of running a company that I enjoy the most is not the money, prestige, experiences, doing something awesome or innovating, no, it’s the ability to make a difference in someone’s life. And I’m not talking about clients; I’m talking about your employees.

You know, those people that have put all their faith in the doors staying open. Those that depend on you to help put food on the table, a roof over their heads. Those people that can now afford to get married, raise families, take vacations, buy houses, cars and still return to work hard for the good of the company. Those people, those employees, those extensions to your family. They are the greatest gift of running a business, and for me, they are the biggest change.

When families now depend on the decisions you make, that’s when your discipline kicks into gear. That is when you notice how different the world has gotten and how you must learn to adapt and embrace it.

Don’t Forget Your Flywheel

I left this point for last, not because it wasn’t important or lower in priority. On the contrary, it’s very important, yet it’s very different as well. This is actually something my partner and I were recently talking about and it came from a book I recently read by Jim Collins, How the Mighty Fall and Why Some Companies Never Give In.

The concept is simple; don’t forget what made you great. In his book he provides a recipe for some of the biggest business collapses. He provides what he calls the Five Stages of Decline, and in Stage 2 he talks to the Undisciplined Pursuit of More.

When we find ourselves in trouble, when we find ourselves on the cusp of failing, our survival instinct – and our fear – can evoke lurching, reactive behavior absolutely contrary to survival. The very moment when we need to take calm, deliberate action, we run the risk of doing the exact opposite and bringing about the very outcomes we most fear.

Jim Collins

Never forget your flywheel, that thing that created your successful company. Don’t let it flail in the wind as you chase the next big opportunity in the pursuit of something greater. It’s not to say you can’t pursue the next big idea, you just can’t do it at the cost of your flywheel.

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