Motivation is a slippery thing. Some days, you’re on fire and ready to take on the world. Other days, it’s hard to get out of bed knowing the problems that face you once you make it to the office. (The idea of “draining the swamp” comes to mind.)
When I opened my first coffeehouse, I couldn’t wait to get out of bed in the morning. I had such a fire in my belly to be successful – to somehow crush the corporate-owned “big green sea monster” (aka Starbucks) that soon opened down the road. As an independent business owner, I was all in for success.
But it’s not easy to go to battle daily against giant corporate competitors with deep pockets and massive marketing – or deal with the other 1,000 things a small business owner has to handle. Needless to say, as time wore on, I wore down. Reality started to settle in, exposing a pit in my stomach where my flames of passion once burned bright. Layer on the stress of juggling staff concerns, payroll and operations across three business units, not to mention maintaining my “mom of the year” status with my kids, and it was more than enough to douse the flames.
Instead of me running my business, my business was running me. And the worst part was that it wasn’t fun anymore.
Something had to give.
I rarely took time off – I didn’t think I could afford to – but I forced myself to step off the proverbial treadmill and take a few days to reflect on what was going on at each of my three locations. I realized that the problem wasn’t the competition or my team or anything else – it was my attitude and how I was handling situations that simply go hand in hand with business ownership. I was reacting to issues that came up instead of responding to them. I was making excuses for challenges when I should’ve been sourcing new ways to overcome them. So in the spirit of author Seth Godin, I came up with three words to help me steer the ship back on course: Purpose, Passion and Plan.
Here’s what I learned from personal experience:
Purpose – You’re not really in business to make money. If that’s all you’re doing it for, there are easier ways than busting tires to make bank. As a coffeehouse owner, selling $1.75 cups of coffee to people who camp out at your shop all day on their laptops is not an easy way to get rich either. And because of that, your purpose needs to be more than a paycheck (assuming you actually give yourself one). It needs to be more than a description of functions. My old business plan showed my purpose was selling quality coffee, which is an activity, not a true purpose. Starbucks, on the other hand, is less focused on coffee and sees itself as being a conduit for connection between people – the coffee is secondary. (You’ll notice they even removed the word “coffee” from their logo.) Likewise, if selling tires is what you think your purpose is, perhaps shift the lens to the bigger picture – one that better reflects your vision of success and the difference you make for those you serve. Is it about tires, or ensuring the safety of the families you do business with? Is it about inventory turns or helping local workers earn a living each day because their trucks have the right tires to get the job done?
Passion: Business ownership can be a head game. To win, you have to find reasons to love what you do every day. Purpose can feed into it, but it’s maintaining that true love for our work that fuels us. Why did you choose to do what you do in the first place? Why was it more fun then than it is now? Of course there will be situations that dull the spark when it comes to that love affair with your business. Earlier I referred to draining the swamp. The original expression is this: “When one is up to his ass in alligators, it is easy to forget that his original objective was to drain the swamp.” What can you do to drain your swamp, to make it more fun, to reignite that fire in your belly? Your team and your organization – even your bottom line – are affected by your glowing enthusiasm. If you’re no longer able to “bring it,” it’s time to reflect on why, then make some changes.
Plan: And speaking of making some changes, get a Plan in place to address the negatives. I ended up releasing two people, hiring a growth consultant, rebranding the business and getting rid of a high-stress/low-profit service that was sucking the life out of me. Within a few months, I was stoked up each morning once again, ready to take on that “big green sea monster” or whatever other challenges came my way. My staff noticed a difference and they, too, embraced a better attitude which ultimately resulted in a better customer experience at each location.
Having a clear purpose, burning passion and a clear plan – one that serves more than sells – is essential to maintain motivation. It also helps to define your brand and inspire your people. But it starts with mustering up the motivation to make a change.
No more excuses; you know what you need to do.