Motivation in Small Business


My small business kryptonite is de-motivation. If you have motivation you have to protect and sustain it in the face of business problems, anxiety and other negatives. Ironically happiness which is supposed to be a positive can kill motivation in a blink. Let's dig into these a little.

I'm now comfortable and mostly happy with my life. That is a big problem and I'm not joking. To grow you need to be motivated. If you're not growing you are in fact contracting. Even if you manage to maintain a state of happiness it's very hard not to have some fear or anxiety in the background that failure is around the next corner. This is the fear that the law of impermanence is chasing you down and will eventually catch you.

Happiness or contentment is very good at creating a cruising effect. Everything is going well so you kick back, drop your guard, and switch from the life of the hard working ant to being a playful grasshopper.

This effect can slow a business and even kill it. It even kills super-power nations. Just look at the USA. It looks like a repeat of the collapse of Rome. At the height of their success people in Rome were cruising. They adored their gladiators (sports stars), they were besotted with their entertainers (celebrities) and they revelled in food and banquets (food revolution and chefs as celebs). Now “booty from abroad” and war financed it all. Toward the end most of Rome's productivity was from outside and they ended up destroying their economy with big tax under big government. Does this feel familiar? People cruise, then they lose.

Cruising can have you in a very happy state but you're tricking yourself because you probably have anxiety taking the edge off it, niggling away in the background. That's what I feel each time I step back and relax. You feel you should be doing something more or that the current good times won't last. It might also be anxiety fuelled by procrastination. A fear of the future is very real for many small business owners.

Problems can also kill motivation. As you face one problem and solve it many of us will fill the hole with a new problem. I think the older we get the more we have a tendency to do that.

So I want to share some things impacting my motivation and how I deal with it. Things that impact motivation will differ for everyone but I think some of mine are quite common amongst small business owners.

1. Arrival fallacy

This is the mental leap you make when you do complete something and you jump straight onto the next incomplete project, problem or product. You don't stop and celebrate. It even feels like an anti-climax. You very quickly replace completed goals with new ones in your mental space. I also get down when things aren't in a state of perfection and customers fuel that when they point out our faults. I want perfection because like Steve Jobs I believe in painting the back of the fence even though you can't see it. However that's hard to do when you have so many fences to build (and yes, my statement here does in itself reveal the answer to my problem).

We are never complete in software so that's a real problem for me because in addition to this it is heavily compounded by customers who remind me of all the things that all the other software products do that they want. Or all the things they dislike and wish were built the old way that systems they came from did it. Or because we don't have it, or our policy on free for startups really sucks when we ask them to pay 1 or 2 years down the track.

Please don't read me as ungrateful. 95% of our customers say nothing, they love our product and stay with us. They pay Saasuians' taxes, our health care, super and our household bills. I appreciate that. Our churn is tiny so I know customer appreciate us as a whole. It is amazing however what a small number of customers can cause for you and your mental wellbeing in small business.

Antidote: Accept that there is always more to do. You will always be imperfect and you'll never be finished. Be satisfied that you got a goal completed. Be satisfied in the present that you progressed a goal. Note that this can actually be the cause of arrival fallacy. You bank a little bit of the goal each day so when it is complete you have it all mentally banked and done. Thus the anti-climax.

Other antidotes are gratitude, celebration and reflection. Sometimes you need to stop and appreciate where you have gotten to in the journey. When you wake up in the morning add reflection to your routine. Reflect on how lucky and grateful you are for the great people, things, experiences in your life as an abundance that most likely overwhelms the negative. Being alive, having food, your health and a place to sleep is 20% of what you have but is probably 80% of your happiness if you choose to live in gratitude.

2. Anxiety and/or depression

I get anxious and sometimes mild depression because I feel I'm not doing what I want to, saying what I want to and lastly because I sometimes feel very owned by “the system”. The government and all their reporting bodies, the complimentary legal system and the need to fit into a politically correct, compliant apathetic mould that society expects. Government is designed to fund itself by milking its small business tax cash cows to fund their inefficient activities so it's hard not to get down about that. They hammer our workflow and cashflow to fund their taxflow.

Unsaid things cause anxiety also. I have not spoken up enough about things I don't believe in about banks, the government, our competitors and that in itself causes disappointment in myself. The frustration of having to be politically correct while you own a small business doesn't match with my internal desire to share my views on liberating business owners from a Slavelandia like debt and tax regime.

That has all changed now and I am embarking on a new journey in my life and for Saasu. The antidote I discovered for this is courage. Standing up to people, saying what you think despite the risk of upsetting some partners, customers and politicians.

Gratitude is excellent for anxiety and depression also. Remind yourself how lucky you are, how first world some of your problems are.

Last but most important the top antidote is to do something. Take action, transform your state from victim living in fear to fighter with courage. Shut your business, sell it, change it or invest in it. Retrench, hire or fire people. You must act.

In-action is one of the biggest drivers of anxiety and depression in my experience. In-action is the food of status-quo. It maintains your state and thus tomorrow you will get more of the same from life. You'll get more of what you had today and what you had yesterday.

Action, she is the Goddess of good luck. Read The Richest Man in Babylon if you haven't already.

3. Uninspiring work

If you don't believe in something but you have to work on it then it becomes your job. That's not your passion. How do you get up in the morning if it isn't? How can you motivate yourself if most of your day isn't your passion?

Antidote: Stop doing stuff you don't like. Find a way, make it happen. Outsource, hire, kill it. Whatever it takes to bring back motivation. Without motivation you will not grow. I think it's better to spend 100% of my time on my passion and instead outsource or delegate the things I don't wan't to do. In a new small business or startup the first person to hire is someone that loves doing the thing you hate doing that is important for the business model. It could be admin, it might be sales. It's simple really.

The first thing to do if you are a mature small business is shut down the part of the business that doesn't perform or that you are convinced doesn't have the potential for success. If that's the part you enjoy you need to rethink the business model. You are going to have to disrupt or reinvent your own business.

Your business should be a manifestation of your life goals and dreams. It shouldn't own you. The company should serve you. Elon Musk of eBay, PayPal, Tesla and SpaceX said “I don't create companies for the sake of creating companies, but to get things done.”

You should start sales channels, create products and commence services you believe in. You will be motivated and apply energy to things you believe in.

So this is the start, 1st of December 2015, where you will hear what I think. I will upset people, inspire people and hopefully liberate a few people.

Photo by Greg Rakozy