mind your business: Trial by Fire
Any entrepreneur knows that when it comes to running a business your work is never done. From the moment you wake up in the morning until you go to sleep at night, you're worrying, planning for the future, and more often than not, putting out fires. In fact, like a fireman, you're always on call. You're always prepared to rush in and extinguish a customer's complaint, a lost order, a disagreement between employees or whatever the day's blaze seems to be.
The best way to keep these flames from permanently harming your business is to "leave a fire extinguisher behind" after putting out each fire. Do so and you'll turn every fire into an opportunity to improve.
I learned this lesson from Dave Lindsey, a successful entrepreneur and founder of Defender Direct in Indianapolis. When you fight a "business fire," your job is much more than to solve the problem. It is to leave behind processes—or as Lindsey put it, to "leave behind fire extinguishers"—to prevent the problem from happening again, or to make it easier to fix the problem if it does occur.
Lindsey is just one of 54 successful entrepreneurs who participated in my study of high-growth entrepreneurial businesses. The study was designed to illuminate the common challenges entrepreneurs face as they pursue growth after surviving the start-up phase. The results of the study are the subject of my book, "Grow to Greatness."
Much of "Grow to Greatness" discusses processes, because they are the "how-to's" of your business and are essential to its growth. When you're starting up your business, institutionalized processes aren't as important because you'll do much of the work yourself. But as your business grows, there will simply be too much for you to do on your own. You'll hire employees, and, being human, they'll make mistakes or come across situations they aren't equipped to handle. Without the proper processes in place, they'll guess what to do, and that often means you'll have to come sprinting in with your fire hose.