On Second Thought

Years ago, an older colleague of mine joked, “If I had known I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself.” We both had a good laugh, but we also knew there was an element of truth to his comment. Years of hard living as a younger man were now taking their toll on his body.

As is often the case when I hear comments like this, my thoughts immediately turn to business and the similarity between running a business and running your life. They both involve making decisions that seem innocent at the time but can have serious, unintended consequences when they play themselves out years later. By then, it’s often too late to do anything about them and we find ourselves lamenting, “If I had known how long I was going to own my business, I’d have taken better care of it.”

We often make this mistake when we’re young business owners just trying to survive week to week during the launch phase or when we’re running as fast as we can trying to scale our company during the growth years.

It’s easy to get soft on making hard decisions. When we’re exhausted from working long hours, thinking to ourselves, “I’ll let it slide just this once” doesn’t seem so bad. It’s also easy to be blinded by a maniacal focus on sales growth or profitability at the expense of truly important things that may not reveal themselves until years down line.

One of the first things sacrificed in the interest of growth or top-line sales is the price we charge for our products or services. We convince ourselves that if we lower our price “just this once,” we’ll make it up in volume with future sales to the customer. Too often, though, the customer isn’t playing the same game and all we’ve done is show them that our price has no integrity and we’re willing to work for less. Before long, our “just this once” price becomes the standard price, and we find ourselves in a constant struggle for profitability and positive cash flow. This exacts a toll not only when we’re running the company but also when we go to sell it. Buyers aren’t willing to pay top dollar for a marginally profitable business.

Another area where business owners sacrifice good health is with the people we surround ourselves with. This has never been more evident than in today’s agonizingly tight employment market. In an effort to fill empty seats with somebody so our customers can be serviced, we settle for putting the wrong people in those seats and our business suffers for it. This is the equivalent of expecting to compete at a high level athletically while maintaining a diet that’s high in fat, sugar, and alcohol. Your diet is fighting the very thing you say you want to accomplish! It’s no different with our business. While both these scenarios might provide a temporary energy rush, in the long term, they exact a toll.

Another colleague of mine is noted for saying (and I paraphrase), “Run your business today as if you want to sell it tomorrow.” He’s right, even if you have no intention of selling it anytime soon. By doing this, you’ll build a business that brings you greater satisfaction as you run it and greater wealth when you sell it.

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