Last week we did some diagramming to prove to ourselves that we do indeed have systems in place, underbuilt and unthought out though they may be.
This is a tremendously clarifying and empowering step, and I encourage you to block twenty minutes off to do it today if you have not already done so. Being able to see all (or most of) the pieces will make you feel more in control. There is much cheering and huzzahing available in the Facebook group, and also people offering help and feedback if you are stuck.
So now you have a diagram. You may even have a list of systems, or aspects of systems that you want to improve on. But that’s a recipe for overwhelm. So let’s first take a step back and talk about strategy.
I want you to imagine for a second that you became successful. Not “chosen by Oprah successful”, but maybe someone you admire says something positive about you in an interview. Maybe you get featured in a book or magazine. Maybe something you wrote hits the front page of Medium or Reddit. Whatever it is, suddenly your inbox is filling with orders or emails from people who want to work with you. First, take a moment to savour the deliciousness of all the money. But then, consider the cold, hard facts. Which aspect of your business is going to fall apart FIRST?
I’ll give you a few examples:
- People in knowledge work fields might try to stick their thumb in the dike and answer every last email, eating into the time and energy they have to work and, you know, pay the bills.
- People with freelancer backgrounds are particularly prone to taking every job, without considering how to choose for the best fit.
- People who deal with material goods will probably run out of stock, and if their e-commerce software allows them to oversell their stock, they’re going to have to deal with customer service headaches.
But you can probably use your imagination here. Follow the funnel you diagrammed. How far would in your customer get before there’s a bottleneck?
Before you start freaking out, realize that most bonsai businesses don’t have the ability to handle an onslaught at least in part because they were never designed to. They weren’t intended to get so big. But. The reason I am pointing this out to you is because you have a vulnerability to success. How do I know this? Frankly, I’ve never seen a business that didn’t. We go around all day thinking about what will do with things go wrong, and never consider what will do if we’re wildly successful.
If you’re vulnerable to success any success at all is likely to stress your business. More success, more things breaking. And the more you, the bonsai business owner, start to wonder whether success is really what you want.
This is how people end up afraid of success. Or, at the other end, sitting fried crispy, amid the ruins of a business that looked to be thriving. This is the nightmare of all bonsai business owners.
So how do you emerge victorious, especially over the struggles of success?
You get ready for them.
Readiness is the key.
It’s also how you strategize. I asked you, “what will break first?” The answer to the question is not so important as the fact that you are asking it. If I think communication with potential clients is going to be the breakdown point, and it’s actually the fact that I don’t have anything available at an introductory price point, I’m really not worse off if I sit down and compose a couple “I’m super overwhelmed and will answer your email ASAP” canned responses. Chances are I’m going to need that email spillover system at some point, so now it’s done, and I can start looking at lowering the barriers to entry to my services.
Every action I take reduces my vulnerability to success by pinpointing the most breakable parts of my system. If several parts are almost equally breakable, you can pick the one most likely to be stressed or, you can pick the one you can fix the fastest. It doesn’t matter — everything improvement reduces your vulnerability, and hence, improves your ability to really have lasting, status-quo-style success.
Why Focus on Success?
Most of the time when people focus on weakness, they’re focusing on things like “what will I do with all my clients fire me?” “What if nobody buys my thing?”
The trouble is, what little you can do about these types of problems is not a good strategy for the growth of your business. Things like casting a wider net or taking money for things you’d rather not do is a dangerous trade-off. You’re not just playing defensively, you’re holed up in a bunker. No one can grow like that.
Whereas, when you start plotting ways to ease the inevitable growing pains of success, you make it easier to succeed, because every fresh crop of new clients or customers doesn’t set your business building or marketing efforts back six months. You will absorb the wave instead of getting knocked over by it.
And you can capitalize on opportunities. If you get asked interview, you have a landing page template ready to send visitors to if you get invited to a tradeshow, you not only have a checklist for packing, but a sign-up sheet for orders after you sell out. Believe me — opportunities come along frequently when you’re prepared for them.
If you’re vulnerable to success, any success at all is likely to stress your business. More success, more things breaking. And the more you start to wonder whether success is really what you want.
This is how people end up afraid of success.
So that brings us to this week’s challenge.
You’ve got a diagram from last week. In your “wild success scenario” pinpoint what’s going to break first. Is it a place where there is a gap in your current system? Something you’re doing by hand because there’s never enough traffic to warrant streamlining?
Brainstorm what you need to add to make that bottleneck operate at scale. It might not be much. If so, get it done.
Or it might be a significant project. But, because you know that this is where shit will hit the fan first, it should be fixed ASAP, and if it’s a bit in-depth, should go on to your business projects list. Feel free to ask for advice in the Facebook group.
Last week you intuitively mapped out an area of your business that was bugging you. Under the lens of vulnerability to success, was that a good place to focus? What made it your itch of choice to scratch? Sometimes that can be good – something like invoicing systems are pretty far away from getting on a vulnerability to success list, but still needs to be done. However, I encourage you to think about this concept, and about how to tackle the first thing that would break. If you want to talk through specifics, post in the Facebook group.
A Note to Novelists:
I think with you guys, the main issue you’ll have with wild success is finding out you even have it – the experience of the reader is so far removed from communication. I might suggest that at the special exercise this week, you set filters and systems to hear about any mention of your name or your books on the Internet. You can’t capitalize on what you don’t know about.
Next week we’ll talk about how to create a framework and fill in the details as you go – this is the fastest, most effective way to build out the system.