Small Business Advice – Success Is Messy

Many, many people have a goal in mind to start their own business. Running a business, managing operations, making profits, and controlling one’s daily life – sounds pretty attractive. And there is good reason for it. But running a business isn’t the easiest way to go. I remember hearing some wise small business advice a few years ago, and over the years found it to be profoundly accurate:

Success is messy.

If you are running an active business and making lots of deals and building lots of relationships you are going to be immersed in disorder. Sometimes, it will be frequent. Success carries with it some pretty consistent attributes, and one of the most prominent is disorder.

Call it disorder, or loose ends, or chaos, or whatever else you might name the condition, it is a characteristic of a business that is always progressing, always advancing, always chartering new waters in search of the next horizon. When your business does these things, there are always situations where you are not sure how to steer the ship, where to pause, when to shoot forward, or what to do because you cannot see the future and you cannot always know the best course of action.

Progress means messy; success means messy.

If a business doesn’t progress, the business will go down, and eventually away. No business can survive doing the same ol’ things the same ol’ way forever. Our world changes daily. Our markets change, our suppliers change, our operations change. When existing in a world of constant change, a business must change with it or become obsolete, in short order.

Most people become comfortable once they hit a certain level in profits or income. They have a tendency to “settle in” at that point, and start enjoying the level to which they’ve risen. But many people don’t take to heart the reality that nothing remains the same for very long. Things have to be reevaluated, employees have to be let go, new people hired, old relationships replaced with new, and so on. And this is precisely where business, and success, gets messy.

Because this world in which we live is riddled with problems of every kind, all the time, it stands to reason we must constantly be willing to face new challenges and find a way to address them. We do this by advancing toward the problems, before they come to us. Ask yourself these questions as you think about how your business might be messy (and thus possibly successful):

1. Does my desk (or truck seat, or station, etc) have much more on it than I could possibly do today?

If your answer is yes, that is most likely a very good thing. In business, you can rarely say every “i” is dotted and every “t” is crossed and you can now go home and forget about everything. Usually, in your best condition you can accomplish only a small portion of your goals for each day, because you have to have so much ready for the unforeseen, the unexpected. An overload of work is not a problem to a small business; it is a sign of progress.

2. Am I able to handle every phone call and every appointment that comes to me?

There is a tendency to think that as business owners, if we are completely on top of our game, then every phone call is returned and every appointment is scheduled… and met. This, however, is not a sign of success. Success means choosing between good opportunities and great opportunities and clearing your schedule of time wasters. In a normal day, if you have 25 people to call and 5 appointments to make, chances are 5 of those phone calls have low or possibly zero potential and one or two of your appointments will be an exercise in futility. As a successful business owner, you must force yourself to spend time only on the profitable ones. Success is messy, and it will fill your calendar with unnecessary fluff, which you must learn to get rid of.

3. Are there conflicts of interest between the people I work with each day?

There is no shortage of conflicts among people; it’s a fact of life everyone has to deal with. But the business owner of a successful business will get more than his or her own share of it. Conflict is a ready partner of success of any kind. When a business is progressing, and successful, there will be employees who are climbing over each other for position, and power. There will be co-workers and independent contractors who are not happy with you success, and they will want to take it from you. You might have distributors and suppliers who “accidentally” overcharge you and go around you and create headache for you. This is a cost of success. Expect it. People are flawed (including you) and will create problems. And the more successful you are, the more it seems to happen. The real measure of success is not whether someone can make money, it is whether they can properly handle the issues that arise from it.

Operating a small business is a lofty goal, and not many people make it a reality. But for those who do, they must learn to expect and address that success is not easy, nor will it ever be. Success is messy, and the small business advice I offer you is simply this:

Don’t try to clean up the mess. Learn that messiness is a necessary part of progress, and progress is a necessary part of success.