We are socialized to choose frantic.
No matter how much we do, it never feels like it is enough.
Choosing to view your life through the lens of “never enough” and “always behind” is a self-destructive pattern that will rob you of your joy, narrow your field of vision and tamp down your creativity.
Building a sustainable business means planning for the right blend of strategy and execution, and developing a mindset of curiosity and appreciation.
As Dorie Clark says in her excellent new book, The Long Game, “It’s about doing small things over time to achieve our goals—and being willing to keep at them, even when they seem pointless, boring, or hard.”
Here are 6 ways to build a sustainable business:
1. Know what is truly necessary
What is your baseline “enough” to pay all your necessary bills each month? You need to have an extremely accurate grasp on exactly how much you need to fund all parts of your life and business in order to plan for sustainable growth.
From here, you can make adjustments to reduce expenses so that your baseline run rate is reasonable.
As you make more money, you will know what to set aside for growth-related investments, and what to set aside for business profit.
Pro Tip: Read or listen to Profit First by Mike Michalowicz
2. Make time to plan
You will never fit time into a busy day to suddenly gain strategic insight about future opportunities, identify destructive patterns or develop new ideas for your business.
These things happen in a deliberate container of planning, which is away from the busyness and distraction of your every day life.
Make time each week, month, quarter and year to look at the big picture of your business. It can help if you have alone time for reflection, as well as time with others such as team members, a coach or consultant or a small group of supportive peers or colleagues.
Pro Tip: Open your calendar and block off time specifically for planning. Color code it so that it signals to you “This is critical time that I won’t interrupt no matter what.”
3. Take Tiny Marketing Actions
Connections are made and opportunities built in tiny seeds planted over a long period of time. If you make time to plan and know the kind of connections that would benefit your business in the long run, then you will know the Tiny Marketing Actions (TMAs) necessary to execute on a daily basis.
These can be things like following key partners or journalists on Twitter and interacting with them on a regular basis. Or writing useful content consistently on your preferred social media platform. Or having 15 minute get to know you calls with PB&J Partners — business owners who provide highly complementary but non-competitive products or services to your shared ideal customer.
Pro Tip: Scroll through the contacts in your phone and send a text to a client or colleague who you appreciate and who you have not talked to in awhile. Let them know you were thinking about them and tell them one thing you appreciate about them.
4. Acknowledge your progress
We have a terrible habit of noticing all the things we didn’t do, goals we didn’t reach, and money we didn’t make.
Instead, we need to continually notice when we are executing habits or taking actions that contribute to the long-term health of our business.
By noticing what we are doing that is working, we can build momentum and the daily habits that lead to long-term success.
It is fine to notice a destructive habit, pattern or frustration, but try to do that during your planning time so that you can note what is not working and make a plan to fix it.
Pro Tip: Look over your calendar for the last 30 days and list three things that you are really proud of yourself for doing.
For example: “I initiated that tough conversation, even though I was anxious about it.” or “I got a new client who found me through a Google search,” or “I got rave reviews for that new workshop I delivered to my client.”
5. Build your systems
James Clear’s famous quote in Atomic Habits “You do not rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems” is the callout we need to build a sustainable business (thanks for nothing James, this one stings!).
Building systems will slow down our frantic pace, reduce the cognitive load of constantly searching for things and increase our confidence.
You can start by making a simple document of your core business operations, and document as you go. Once you document, you can see the places where some streamlining or automation would make things easier.
It does take time and effort to create systems, but it is probably the single thing that will make the biggest impact on your business sustainability.
Pro Tip: Make a list of key things that bother you in any of these core systems: Financial, Marketing or Client Onboarding and Retention. Then choose one thing to improve over the next 30 days. Lather, rinse, repeat each month.
6. Take time off
My best friend Desiree Adaway started her business 11 years ago. She has always been an extremely consistent person, all the way back to our college years when we were 18. She would finish her assignments early and then relax while I frantically chugged coffee and pulled an all-nighter to finish a paper.
Quite early in her business, she started taking Fridays off in the summer. It seems like a counter-intuitive thing to do when you are growing a business, but as I watched her do it every summer, I also saw how strategically she grew her business in the Fall and Winter.
She added longer breaks during the holidays, completely shutting down the business so she could refresh and recharge. Once back, she would dive into deeply meaningful projects. Over the years, it seems like the busier and more successful she gets, the more time she blocks out to refresh and recharge.
The result is that when she is working with clients, she is fresh, sharp and totally engaged. She makes great strategic decisions, and creates transformational programs and intellectual property.
Pro Tip: Block off time in your calendar to refresh and recharge. Push yourself to plan for a bit more than feels comfortable. Then you will use your business planning time to make sure you offer products and services that are priced and delivered to account for time off to recharge.
Building a sustainable business is a commitment to yourself and your clients.
Ultimately, it ensures that you are leaving a legacy of a powerful body of work, satisfied clients, a healthy lifestyle and strong and nourishing relationships.
When you hear the whisper of “But you aren’t doing enough! Look at who is doing MORE!,” turn to it, smile, and whisper back:
“All in good time, my friend. All in good time.”