“How Long Does It Take To Get A Business Going?”

Question: What would you think of someone who said this to a five year old?

“It’s about time you start earning your keep! I want you to get out there and get a job so you can pay your share of the mortgage. And, while you’re at it, here’s the keys to the car. Drive down to the store and pick up some groceries.”

Doesn’t make sense, does it? This person is either cruel, crazy, or out to lunch on the next planet over.

This is exactly what many folks do to their new businesses.

I know it’s not with any ill intent. We’ve all been seduced at times by those crazy messages: “Get your business from $0 to six figures in 90 days!” And it’s very tempting to believe them.

Who wouldn’t want to go from scraping by to flying in 90 days? Unfortunately, it’s a myth, and rarely true- except in cases where the owner has a lot of previous experience in another business.

A new business is a precious thing. It holds a beautiful jewel of intention and generosity, and a lot of excitement and purity. And, it needs a lot in order to grow.

Thankfully, it doesn’t need 16-20 years before it can support itself like a human child needs. But, it needs more than 90 days.

How much time does a new business need?

It needs three years. Of course, it will contribute to your income, often quite substantially, even in the first year. But I’ve found that in many cases it takes at least three years of dedicated effort before a business feels solid underneath you, and can carry you.

Why three years? I’ve seen this in my own business, in my clients’ businesses, and, when I’ve spoken with other consultants and business educators, they all seem to agree.

The first year, you don’t yet know exactly what you’re doing- you’re fooling around, creating, testing, having fun, seeing what’s what. In the second year you have your feet and some certainty about your direction. And, by the third year, you’ve done it all enough that it feels familiar. There are many things you -know- instead of guessing at, and that shows up in how you do things, and how confident your customers are in you.

You can’t really rush this process too much, because there is a wisdom born of experience- and without a certain amount of experience, the wisdom doesn’t come.

And if it’s older than three years and still isn’t working?

Your business needs the same care and attention that your customers/clients need. You’ve probably spent years getting really good at helping those who come to you for help. Have you given that same care and attention to helping your business?

If it has been awhile, I doubt that you need three more years to make your business stable. But, you do need to go through the same process you did in deepening your professional skill-set: learning from experts in business, spending time practicing and trying things out. Above all, being patient with yourself as you learn something new.

And if your business is in it’s first year? The same lessons apply. And, be gentle with yourself. Give yourself three years, so you aren’t disappointed if you are still learning and growing six months from now.

But it’s 2007 now! What do I do right now when I need to eat?

My whole intention here is to inspire you to have some compassion for yourself, and some patience as you grow your business. And, don’t worry, although the metaphor is useful, your business isn’t really a helpless infant. There is plenty you can do right now.

Keys to The Care and Feeding of Your Business

• Understand the difference between your needs and the business’ needs.

You have specific needs- financially, emotionally, spiritually. So does your business. In the beginning, you may not be able to fully meet each other’s needs. You might need money for rent, while your business needs money for training and education.

Or, you might have a need for appreciation, but your business isn’t generating enough clients or customers to give you a steady diet of it. In which case you may need another strategy to get appreciation, like from your spouse, or mastermind group.

For instance, I found myself needing to work part-time at a J – O – B when I first started out, because otherwise it was just too much financial pressure on my new little business.

• Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself.

One definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. But another definition of business insanity is abandoning something before it has a chance to gather momentum.

Here’s where expert (read: ‘experienced’) advice counts for a lot. If you are doing something that has proven itself in other businesses, trust it will work for you, too. Tweak it, fiddle with it, work with it, yes, but don’t abandon it. Otherwise, you risk just repeating your first year in business over and over again.

• Limit your offerings.

Yes, you are experimenting and having fun early in your business (and hopefully, later, too). But experiment and have fun within a very limited number of offerings. By repeating offerings over time- the same product, the same class, with different customers and participants, it allows you to get a depth of mastery and understanding of the offering.

This in term brings greater confidence, a better customer experience, and the ability for those customers to refer folks back to the same class.

For instance, there are two classes I’ve taught consistently for several years. And, over time, they’ve developed, grown, expanded. They’ve become a book. They’ve become consistent sell-out classes for a few years now.

There was a time when they didn’t sell out. But I didn’t abandon them. I kept the momentum going.

Take care of your business in the early years, and later, your business will take care of you.