It should stay that way.
When someone starts a business, they usually have a clear idea about what that business will do. They understand who it will serve and the products and offers it will make. It’s an exciting time and a stressful one.
For most business owners, there’s a period of learning, what works in their market, and what doesn’t. We hear what clients like and what they find frustrating. Those insights lead to change, and the business shifts evolves, and changes. The business gradually becomes different from its initial design.
For many years, I’ve seen small businesses shift and change through myriad little changes. The client asks whether you can also do this or provide that. Opportunities for sure, but not entirely on mission, but you can make some money and deliver a service. Then another step away from where you want to be, and another, and another Before you realise it, the business has evolved into something that no longer works. Every decision seemed small, a reasonable opportunity along the way. You set out to work in one market, your market, in one way, your way, but find yourself known for working in other markets, attracting the business you didn’t want and delivering it in ways you didn’t expect.
You are no longer doing work that brings you joy, no longer doing work that makes your mastery stand out. You remain just one of a crowd of others who do something that you know about but which you cannot yet do exceptionally well.
Yet some businesses thrive and grow and stay absolutely on mission. They do what they are best at and continue to master as each day goes by. They are known only for their specialism, and their mastery of it attracts only great clients at premium prices.
What’s the difference?
Actually not much. I see some traits consistently in these two types of business when looking from the outside. There is very little difference in the effort that’s put in. Both work hard, and both commit to learning and evolution. Both seek supportive friends and colleagues, and both take advice.
Advice – served with a pinch of realism.
There is one key difference, though. Over the 19 years I have been advising small business owners, I’ve seen the difference in how those businesses take decisions. Thriving businesses make better choices about change. They are intentional and choose the direction of their mastery. Those who prefer short-term opportunities and seek and take advice from those who do, remain mired in mediocrity.
The difference comes from the type of advice they seek and the people they seek it from.
Masterful businesses remain open to learning every day. They don’t just pay lip service to the principle of lifelong learning but live it and think about it daily. They know that providing critique, feedback, and advice is a skill, and they seek out advisors they trust who are masterful in that skill.
They seek advisors who understand the journey and have walked a similar path, probably in different sectors or markets. These people can see the wood and the trees, the big picture and the fine detail.
Advice is taken and considered but only sometimes followed because they know their business, mission, values and strengths. They know that while learning never stops, there are times when one has to trust instincts.
The real difference
The difference between thriving businesses and mediocre ones is intentionality. The businesses that stay focused on their ‘why’, committed to their core values and devoted to mastering what they do know – are the ones that grow and prosper. While they adapt and evolve, they do so from a place of strength and clarity, not reactivity or fear. They know their business inside and out, their strengths and weaknesses, their key metrics and most importantly, know themselves.
They don’t seek advice to please, or because they feel they should; they seek advice to expand their perspective and consider other angles. But ultimately, they trust in themselves and their team to determine the right path for their business. They challenge their assumptions, and they remain aligned with the principles and vision that are important to them. They stay focused on doing work that energises and fulfils rather than work that merely pays the bills. Intentionality is the difference between surviving and truly thriving. It’s the difference between your business becoming what others want it to be and what you want it to be.
Your choice, your decision.
Which route will you choose? Will you let your business evolve wherever others take it, or will you be intentional? Will you seek and accept good advice, acting on it only when it serves you? It’s a commitment and a discipline, and it is yours to decide.