What motivates anyone to start a small business? You are usually alone, without a lot of start up cash (hardly ever enough), without the full range of skills to make the business work and most often without sufficient knowledge of the market you are about to enter.
Despite all of these barriers to setting off in a small business we set sail, like a ship without adequate navigation, in search of something we want.
It is the nature of what we want that drives our motivation. If the nature of what we want is to earn a little money to supplement our existing income or indeed to provide our only income then most people can start a small business and meet their measure of success.
It is when our want becomes something more, perhaps to provide for our children an education and a chance for a better life than we had that the measure of success becomes more difficult to attain.
When we want to change a small piece of the world to make something better than it was and to earn money by doing so then the stakes on achieving our measures of success are raised a further notch.
In any of the three aspiration examples, starting a small business and being successful at it almost always requires of us to leave our comfort zone.
In large organisations, people are able to pretty much decide whether they want to or do not want to leave their comfort zone.
Large organisations usually have enough resources to provide another person to cover for others wanting to stay in their comfort zone. The comfort zone is often technical or personal skills.
Whilst I could argue that this is inefficient in a large organisation, in a small organisation it is often fatal.
Comfort zones come in many guises in small business.
If the motivation for starting a small business is somehow related to our knowledge of a particular industry, technology or methodology we will be starting a business where what people exchange their money for is our personal skills and knowledge. This is most often how small businesses start.
The problem with starting a business this way is that to grow the business we need to create clones of ourselves or work sixteen hours a day or hire someone who has the same skills and knowledge that we do.
My observation of small businesses caught in this trap of wanting to expand their business but having limited availability of the saleable resource i.e. themselves, is that the founder cannot let go.
They do become locked in a comfort zone of control where everything that is done is controlled for quality, timing, quantity and recording by the principal. To actually free up time to grow the business, the principal needs to hire someone to take on a role and manages their performance using coaching techniques instead of micromanagement.
Small businesses set up with a clear view of what will generate income sometimes are disappointed with what customers actually value. It is easy to mistake value in our terms for what customers will really value.
Letting go of what you think will make money immediately takes small business people out of their comfort zone into a new market, a new product and sometimes a point where they are not the source of the skills and knowledge that provide the income opportunity.
Small businesses which rely on marketing to generate sales and do not have the funds to extensively research opportunities or communicate their goods and services will have to learn to network and use electronic means of reaching their prospect base.
Some people find networking easy. They are gregarious by nature and are the centre of attention whenever they enter a room. The rest of us find it a bit of a problem. This may be because small talk is not our thing or because we do not want to be seen to be “selling” all the time.
The desire not to “sell” all the time is natural and is part of the answer to getting out of this comfort zone. Selling is not what it is about. What networking is about is having many conversations with many people about problems, issues and opportunities. The act of having conversations will naturally deliver opportunities. It is not necessary and not advantageous to have a sales pitch ready for every occasion.
Small business owners need to continually focus on what they want to achieve by starting a small business. They must use their social skills, their insight and develop a clear perception of themselves in the community in which they operate to navigate through a sea of self learning to be successful.
Otherwise, their comfort zone will become a safe harbour of underachievement.