I don't know about you, but I certainly enjoy envisioning the best case scenarios when it comes to thinking about the future of my business. It's quite fun to think about the potential growth of the things I'm doing - adding new customers and readers, finding new avenues for revenue, and so on.
The difficult part, though, is that our optimistic dreams often smash directly onto the hard shores of reality. We find that our business isn't growing as fast as we'd like it to. Sometimes, we even find that it's failing when we thought that it would succeed.
I've been there. I've failed at all sorts of endeavors, from web development to systems consulting. I had big dreams and saw early success on the road, but found that things simply didn't go like they had in my mind when I envisioned the future.
With my content development work, I've tried to take a different tack when it comes to envisioning the future. Instead of envisioning a rosy future full of success, I instead imagine a future where I'm not hugely successful with this endeavor. What does my future look like if there's no growth at all - or even some negative growth?
It's not a fun picture to look at, don't get me wrong, but it's a very insightful picture to look at. Whenever I envision that kind of scenario, I find myself planning for four things in order to turn those lemons into lemonade.
First, I refocus on my core business. Things often start to slip when I have my fingers in too many pies. Too much growth can often have the opposite effect - you stretch yourself too thin trying to keep up and things collapse. Rather than allowing that to happen, I look towards reinforcing my core business with the idea that if the core business is strong, it will always carry any peripheral ventures I decide to become involved in.
Second, I keep my spending under control. When a business seems to be showing big signs of success, it's often very easy to loosen the purse-strings and invest in all sorts of things, most of which are really unnecessary for success. Think of a writer, for example, who celebrates his first major publication by replacing the computer that has served him well in his writing thus far. Suddenly, the writer has spent all of his revenue and he's still hustling to try to get anything else in print. Avoid that. Only replace things if there's a genuine need for them.
Third, I grow based on my customer's needs, not my own. I'll use myself as an example here. I first found writing success writing about personal finance and my own journey in that area, something which I was able to turn into a small business for myself. My dream, however, is to write fiction, and it would have been easy for me to try to use that platform to launch a fiction career. However, that's not where my customers were. My customers wanted more fact-based insights - small business writing being one of them. Thus, you're reading this column. I grew based on my customer's needs and desires, not my own.
Finally, I stay vigilant for problems. It's easy to overlook problems when things are successful, but quite often the seed of real problems appear when things are at their best and, when you finally notice the problem, it's taken root and it's dragging you down. Stay vigilant. Keep a very close eye on your cash flow, your revenue, and your budget. If you see a problem, even a tiny one, figure out what's causing that problem now rather than later.
Pulling off the rose colored glasses and looking at your future through clear eyes can often be disheartening, but the things you observe will often build a bedrock for true success in the future.