As many of you may be aware, I have a passion that serves as my outlet to feed my creative energy and release stress. That passion is triathlon, a sport which has taught me a lot about consistency, focus, and prioritizing what’s most important. I often compare things I encounter each day to all aspects of triathlon – the training, gear, focus, and camaraderie that all lead to race day.
My triathlon coach always reminds me that the race itself is a celebration of all the hard work, preparation and training I’ve put in. It’s not about assigning a specific number or time goal, it’s about defining why you’re there and recognizing all you’ve done to get there. Focusing on a specific number, rather than the beauty of the process itself, creates an unhealthy way of measuring success. I’ve found the same to be true in business.
Defining the “Why” Behind Growth
At Kolbeco, we serve growing companies very well and have a great deal of experience in this space. Many businesses approach us with their goals and plans for growth. We always start by asking why they want to grow. Some are quite clear on their why, and in most cases, the growth isn’t about making more money. There is no magic number they’re after, and typically no real carrot at the end of the proverbial stick. They’re in it to get better, serve more people, and fulfill on a mission. They love the daily work, and see each action as a step forward.
Others have not clearly defined their why, which we believe to be an important first step not just for what we do in the marketing, but also for what they’re trying to accomplish in business.
Defining your why behind growth leads to in-depth thoughts, conversations and considerations, for it’s only after the why is defined that you can start digging into how you’re going to travel down the path to accomplishing growth. As a triathlete, and to accomplish my growth in the sport, I realized that my why revolved around my running days in high school. I left something undefined and unfinished out on the track. I suppose you can chalk it up to my youth, and in fact, I often think about the George Bernard Shaw quote that youth is wasted on the young. I was young and without my why back then. Now, I have a purpose to propel me forward.
The concept of youth applies in business as well, and I think the lesson we can learn from Shaw’s quote is not to waste our youth in business. The earlier in a business’s youth leadership can define the why, define metrics, and create a system for measuring progress, the quicker and more efficiently they’ll get to the business and results they envision.
It Takes Hard Work, Not Just Tools
We’ve encountered many cases over the years where clients have gotten lost in tools, thinking that a tool rather than consistent, disciplined work, will provide the magic bullet they need to find success. In my world of triathlon, I’d equate it to buying the most advanced, well equipped bike, sophisticated running shoes and a fancy kit, but only occasionally (or perhaps never) committing to the daily grind required to run a good race. For me, the daily grind is where the beauty lies. I’ve come to truly enjoy the process of waking at 4AM to get my workouts in and the friendships I’ve built along the way – friendships that have been instrumental in helping me grow in the sport.
We recently met with a business owner who sought to accomplish something very specific with his marketing. He had a bold vision – so bold in fact, that it would be a challenge to identify progress if we didn’t put incremental success measures in place to keep everyone encouraged along the way. He was well versed in techniques, trends and tools that could help support his efforts. Yet he wasn’t well versed on the daily grind, and didn’t embrace its beauty. He had a what, but not a clear why. He was ready to buy the fancy bike before knowing why he wanted to ride in the race. Recognizing this, we encouraged him to consider why he wanted this. We counseled that investing in defining the why before investing in tools and systems would make the campaign, the journey, and the desired outcomes more enjoyable and fruitful.
Create the Processes
Your vision is a huge first step. Now you start figuring out how this is all going to get done. If you are scaling up to grow, you must put a great deal of work into your company’s systems and processes. This is how things will get done, and this is how you will ensure that your work (and the experience your team, clients, and partners have with your company) is consistent along the way. Processes create scalability, which is a primary factor in facilitating your growth. That is far from easy, and takes disciplined management.
I never want to discourage anyone from building their business and growing it, but it is my job to help businesses be realistic and disciplined about the effort it will require. Measuring success has to be built into the journey each day to keep stoking your passion and support your motivation. You have to enjoy sharing your story each and every day. Be authentic, not robotic. Tell your story, not someone else’s. While it’s easy to be dazzled by the sexy start-up that sold to Google for millions, realize this isn’t the norm. Most businesses are a long-term strategy which enjoy the pace and rigor of a long endurance race, knowing what they’re going to be doing at each mile along the way. This all begins with the clarity of your why, continues with your love of the daily work, and ends at your finish line – whatever that finish line may be.