You worry about how best to advertise. You worry about marketing. You worry about getting the right employees, paying the bills, paying the vendors, producing something great, getting new customers, keeping old customers happy, and not letting work take over your life.
While you're worrying about all those things beyond your control, you might be missing some definite damage you're doing to your own business. See if you're unconsciously sabotaging your business and take action to change it.
Sabotage #1: Focusing on long-term goals at the expense of short-term movement
Procrastination often masquerades as planning. Don't let planning take the place of what is happening in the present. Neglect the present, and you have no future.
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Successful business managers, owners, freelancers, and entrepreneurs must not only have long-term goals but must also advance steadily toward short-term goals with daily action. Of the two, short-term goals are more important. If you have to choose between steadily pursuing long-term and short-term goals, focus on the short-term. If you have a coherent business plan, those short-term goals will line up with a long-term plan, and you'll be moving in the right direction.
Sabotage #2: Failing to systematize
Systems keep you from needing to do everything yourself. They enable you to transfer responsibility to your employee, your consultant, or your outsourced professional.
Take a look at what Peter Drucker calls "conditions for survival." These "four entrepreneurial activities that run in parallel" can be paraphrased as:
- Organization for systematic abandonment of what is no longer optimal.
- Organization for systematic, continuing improvement.
- Organization for systematic and continuous exploitation of what is successful.
- Organization for systematic innovation.
Turning procedures and processes into a system, training your people in those systems, and then seeing that those systems are followed are among the chief responsibilities of a business leader.
Sabotage #3: Keeping dead-weight on board
Drucker's first condition for survival is organized abandonment "of products, services, processes, markets, distribution channels, and so on that are no longer an optimal allocation of resources." By forcing your business to hang on to old methods you force your business to maintain itself at a level of survival when it could be moving up in growth and profitability.
Notice that there are two conditions understood here. One is, you don't abandon anything at the drop of a hat just because it doesn't work once. If you have a consistently positive return from some method or product, and one freak failure in the bunch, you don't cut it off. You figure out why, you move on, you keep tracking.
The second condition is just as important. Most methods, products, services, etc., that need to be dropped won't stop working altogether. A distribution channel may still get the product distributed, but it won't be the best way to get the work done. You've got to analyze not only what you have, and how well it is working, but how much better things could work with some newness thrown in the mix. Then you have to drop the old stuff, the dead-weight, and move on to what works better.
Sabotage #4: Failing to build innovation into your business
If you aren't constantly looking for ways to improve your business, you won't be aware of how much your business could improve. New things will scare you, rather than cause you to see the possibilities for profitability, growth, and sustainable practices. Just as you need to systematize your day-to-day work, you need to build innovation systematically into your business.
Sabotage #5: Taking things personally
As an entrepreneur, business owner, or freelancer, you invest much of yourself into each new venture, or into each day's work, or into each new client or project. Your personal identity is often wrapped up in your business, and that isn't a bad thing unless you allow your personal reactions to color your business sense.
Can you respond to a customer's complaints, or an employee's criticism, without being personally offended? Can you listen to a new idea without shutting it down because you didn't come up with it? Can you consider a failed project as a way to learn rather than a personal chasm of despair? If you can't, time to start learning. You may still feel strongly about what happens in your business. But you've got to respond with dignity, open-mindedness, and the ability to see the value in each experience or critique rather than allowing those personal feelings to put you into shut-down mode.
Self-sabotage, in the way I've described here, is hardly ever deliberate. In fact, it's hardly ever done consciously. It's most often a matter of you doing the same things you've done, following those old habits, without considering how your habits could debilitate or even destroy your business. The simple solution is to identify and destroy those habits, and then focus on building new habits that help build your business.
Annie Mueller is a freelance writer based in St. Louis. She covers small business topics with a focus on lean/zero budget start-ups, business blogging, and simple (sane) ways business can use social media without selling their souls to Facebook. Her work can be seen online at Investopedia's Financial Edge blog, Young Entrepreneur, Wise Bread, Organic Authority, Modern Mom, and her own site, AnnieMueller.com. Find her on Twitter: @AnnieMueller.