I was recently chatting with a small business owner friend of mine who was explaining to me how his business performed just horribly in 2009, but in 2010 he and his team were able to right the ship and they ended the year with a bang. Sales were way up. His profits were way up. Everything was just going great. In 2011, he expected even greater things.
So we got to talking about his plans for the year and how he is going to achieve his goals. To my surprise, his plans were counter to his goals, as he was pulling back on some of the very things that made his 2010 a success. For instance, a unique marketing program that helped his small business gain traction in a new market was being phased out, while a planned investment in a technology upgrade that is crucial to the company’s growth was being put on hold. I left this conversation concerned that on New Years Eve 2011, my friend was going to be thoroughly disappointed by his company’s performance for the year.
It got me thinking again about a topic I have written about in my book – the Business Black Belt – regarding our tendency as humans to go full steam ahead when things are “bad” and then pull back on the throttle when the going gets good. In business, this habit is one reason why many companies reach the brink of success and then end up still underachieving or failing.
Life, and business, can be like a roller coaster – it’s great, then it turns ugly, then it’s great again. The speed may vary, but it always seems to cycle like this. Is there a reason for this, and is there a secret for smoothing out the ride?
Remember the last time your life was not really going according to plan? Think back to a time when you were at the bottom of the roller coaster in your life. You had reached a certain low point beyond which you could not go any lower. Something had to change. for instance, you may have been thinking, “The house is a mess, there are one too many socks on the floor,” and you suddenly became committed to being neat and clean. You may have gained 10 pounds (or more!), and you decided enough was enough. You focused every ounce of your energy on eating right and working out.
Whatever the situation, you had reached a low point, and you made a conscious choice to change your life. Once you made that choice, things began to start going back to where you wanted them. Everything seemed to get better. Before you knew it you were at the top of the roller coaster again. The house was spotless. You were in the best shape of your life and feeling great!
Next thing you know, you come home, take your socks off, throw them on the floor, and start eating. You think you can relax. You stop doing all the things that improved your life. You slack off and revert to bad habits, and the cycle starts all over – you are back on the roller coaster.
This same cycle happens in the business world. Your small business is at a low point in sales, maybe in Chapter 11 or in the middle of a lawsuit, maybe collections aren’t there. You are forced to change your habits and you start aggressively selling, cutting costs, negotiating, and collecting. Suddenly, money is coming in and profits improve, you’re back on top.
It is just at that moment – when things are going great – that you need to be most vigilant. Stay committed to doing the things you did at your low point at ALL times, and you will have learned the true secret to getting off of the roller coaster for good.