How to Conquer Your Limiting Agent (and Keep Your Business Growing)

Periodically, I’ll run a series of free 1-on-1 calls on various subjects for a limited number of subscribers (Want to get one in the future? Click here to sign up). The last set I ran was to help show people exactly where to focus their attention in their business in order to have the best effect. Sort of like having someone come in to tell you just where to place the chisel to get the stone to split.

These are helpful for the bonsai business owners I’m talking to, but they’re also useful to me, because I get to see a nice cross-section of the people in my audience, and the myriad of ways their growth can be stymied.

Do you remember Limiting Agents in high school chemistry? The Limiting Agent was the element that would have gotten used up first in the intended chemical reaction, hence limiting how much change can take place. Kind of like how even when there is unlimited air, fires don’t last forever once the wood is gone.

[Tweet “The way you frame a problem informs how you think about solving it”]

I’m going to use my father-in-law as an example. He has an Amazon business just like us. It’s basically a retirement business for him. But he takes it seriously. In less than five years he has amassed at least 10,000 books. The problem is that most of them are not listed for sale.

As we talked over Christmas about purchasing opportunities, I reminded him that it didn’t matter the slightest if he found a source for ten times as many books, he needed to work on the number of books he listed and shipped or his business would never grow. Not taking the inventory that he’s bought and making it saleable is his Limiting Agent.

Limiting Agents

What’s Your Limiting Agent?

If your business isn’t yet the size you want it to be, you have a Limiting Agent too. Mine is obscurity. Not enough people know about me or what I do. So that’s a marketing problem. Or an audience problem, depending on how you frame it (the way you frame it tends to inform how you think about solving it). Obscurity is one of the most common problems. The other is trying to sell something people don’t want badly enough — not to be confused with ‘not selling at all.’

Limiting Agents vary from business to business, so I won’t be exhaustive. However, I’ve done a few case studies if you want to see some examples.

Just think about what your equivalent of ‘listing books for sale’ would be. One coach I know calls Limiting Agents “the reason you won’t hire a coach because you already know the very first thing she’ll tell you to do.”
If you don’t know what that is, think about the MOST important thing that you are LEAST likely to get done or succeed at. You’ll probably get pretty close.

Behind the Limiting Agent are four issues, not all of which need apply.

  • lack of skill
  • lack of supporting systems
  • lack of capacity
  • lack of capital

Lack of Skill

The lack of skill is when you don’t know exactly what to do. Theoretical information is fine, but a good rule of thumb is that you’ve done whatever X is at least 5 times well. So my father-in-law doesn’t have a skill problem, but I do. At least some of the skills associated with building an audience are things I’ve never done.

Lack of Systems

Everyone I’ve worked with who knew what they needed to do and exactly how to do it but weren’t getting it done had a systems issue. I’m not sure of anyone in that situation who has a different problem. If you’ve been following the 1% Challenge, you might have seen some silly reminders I set for myself. Those reminders are small in themselves, but they represent a system that supports the execution of something that I already know how to do. At the same time, I’m developing systems for managing work with the VAs, which is not a pre-existing skill set. And my father-in-law will never start listing books at scale until he develops a system that makes doing the work as painless as possible.

Lack of Capacity

Lack of capacity is sometimes overlooked. Sometimes I’ll get clients who run successful businesses, have a volunteer gig, and 3 kids in travel soccer. Then they tell me “I know I should be networking more.” Ha! That isn’t how it works. Likewise, with my other businesses to run, writing social media content when I’m not actively marketing anything falls right off the map. It’s my ‘I know I should be networking.’

The solution to capacity problems is tricky. This is where I start leaning heavily on the OUTSOURCE!! airhorn. If you also have the lack of capital issue, I know it’s not an option. But do you have $20 a week? For $20 a week you might be surprised at what you can hand off. (If this is you, write to me. I’ll hold your hand through this.)

Lack of Capital

When we’re talking Limiting Agents, lack of capital gets a lot of play. I actually think it gets too much play. Trust me, I do NOT subscribe to the belief that if you do what you love, money will follow.

What I do think is that everyone immediately thinks, “If I had $X, I could buy Y, and that would help me figure out how to fix my Limiting Agent.” But in actuality, you probably already know what you have to do to fix it, you just haven’t applied your total focus to overcoming that limitation.

Perhaps because it’s going to suck and be uncomfortable so you’re avoiding it, and perhaps because you didn’t realize what a Big Deal this particular issue was in between all the shouting about the various Business Tactics You Have to Be Doing if you Don’t Want to be Homeless and Broke.

Money won’t hurt, but it’s probably the least applicable part of those four issues I told you about.

How To Conquer Your Limiting Agent

Here’s the thing: in a complicated piece of alchemy like a business, there are numerous elements. And once you’ve figured out a way around one Limiting Agent, then there’s going to be a new Limiting Agent. Because there’s always going to be a weakest link.

Once you deal with obscurity, you’ll probably have to tackle branding. Once branding is handled, you’re going to want to think about automation. But on the plus side, you’ll get a ton of practice at this game of whackamole and it won’t seem so harrowing as it does right now.

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