And I have been many times.
Especially after investing the time, energy and heartache into pushing to the next level but making no tangible progress at all.
I have found myself frustrated, doubting my decision to go for it in the first place, and wondering whether I have what it takes to succeed.
But I haven’t given up. And most times I’ve come out of the other side, eventually getting to where I wanted to be.
In this month’s post I’ll share how, when the going got tough, I kept going.
My first experience of going for it
You may recall that The Clean Space started out as just me and a pair of marigolds.
I did absolutely everything. Wearing a suit by day to secure clients, then donning an apron and gloves at night to clean for those clients. I was the labour, quality control and account manager all rolled into one. I sent the invoices then chased for payment. I managed our Health and Safety risk.
But as I won more and more clients, the hours in the day ran out.
It was time to hire my first employee.
Though daunting, I knew that the business wouldn’t get any further without me taking the plunge. I understood it would hit short term profit and that it would take some of my time to make it happen. But I believed that pretty quickly my new team-mate would take a load of work off my plate allowing me to get on with growing the business.
Initially, everything went as expected – profits went backwards as we had a new salary to cover and sales growth slowed down while I focussed on a proper induction. Before starting the recruitment process the business was growing at 100% per annum. That eventually dropped to just 20%.
What I wasn’t prepared for was how long it would take before we returned to fast growth. I thought it’d take a few months to get things rolling again.
It took a full year.
It was no-one’s fault, things just took longer. A month of induction wasn’t enough to convey everything that was needed to do the job, and it took time to figure out ways of working alongside each other.
Eventually the doubt and frustration began to creep in. I felt like I was failing. I was ready to jack it all in. To cut and run.
But I didn’t.
And just as I got to the brink, it came good. We began to grow again. Profit returned and eventually exceeded our previous best. We had made it.
Eat, sleep, repeat
You may have noticed in the graph that in the top right-hand corner our growth slowed up again. Yep, that’s right. Within 2 years we were back in the same place having reached the maximum that our little organisation of two could handle.
I had to do it all again and it was exactly the same experience. I took the plunge; it took longer than I expected; I got frustrated and stressed; I nearly quit and just at that point we came out the other side.
Over the 13 years I’ve been running The Clean Space these interludes have happened again and again.
Each development phase has been longer and more difficult than the previous one but each time the rewards are greater – both emotionally and financially.
Why frustrations occur
“The nature of the business beast is that things are just not supposed to go to plan the first time round.”
I recently discovered Bruce Tuckman’s model of group development. The framework defines a set of phases that are inevitable in order for a team to grow, overcome obstacles, find solutions to issues, plan work, and to get results. Disagreements and the ability to resolve them are all vital components of developing a solid group.
This explains a lot about my experiences over the years. A development phase in a business is often about changing the team – either the people in the team or the way they are organised – and it simply takes time for that change to bed down.
The problem is that the passing of time is not a good thing when your profit is reduced and you are not growing. Entrepreneurs are not known for their patience. Each time I set out to develop the business I am always chomping at the bit to get to the destination, never looking out of the window to enjoy the journey.
It’s also risky. And hard. And stressful. And scary. If it wasn’t, everyone would be doing it.
For example, in the cleaning industry, there are lots of owner-managed businesses who have reached their limit. They’re usually a man and wife team with just enough contracts to manage themselves. They have a comfortable income, aren’t working crazy hours and have limited stress.
Why would they want to change that?
Of course, not many people do take the risk to push to the next level. If you are reading this having already taken the leap then I believe you’ve already tackled the hardest part.
My latest development phase
In October 2013, with the business ten times larger than when I made my first recruit, I realised that The Clean Space had reached its next development phase. Growth had slowed down and we were reaching breaking point.
Through research, and support from mentors, I figured out that the business could no longer be led by one person controlling everything. I needed to shift into a team-led organisation to move things forward and continue growing.
So I set about building a Senior Management Team to lead the business and started reorganising the business accordingly.
Fast forward two years to October 2015 and the business still hadn’t started firing. Again, I got frustrated, stressed and started doubting my abilities. I was back in the doldrums.
How I’ve managed my frustrations this time around
An Argentinian friend once told me that there are three things needed in life: air to breath, water to drink and patience.
Whilst visiting him recently I noticed that rather than complaining that a table at a restaurant might not be available immediately, a group of friends would buy a bottle of wine, sit outside and enjoy the wait. They would enjoy the journey as well as the destination.
Changing my perspective to view every plateau and transition as an essential part of the overall experience, rather than wallowing over what has not yet happened, has helped put me in the positive mindset needed to take the business forward.
I now blame time for stuff not happening instead of my committed team. I encourage and instil patience instead of wielding a big stick.
In short, I’ve relaxed a bit.
That hasn’t replaced an expectation for high standards, a dogged determination to crack on despite the difficulties and a relentless attitude to pick myself and my team up after a failure. It’s just that I now recognise things are always difficult and will always take longer.
Understanding why things take time, and accepting that I cannot do anything about this but wait, means I do not become discouraged, discouraging or impatient to the degree I did before.
My stress levels have dropped so much that my team can feel the difference (they have told me so).
Whereas I was anxious for results to be immediate, resulting in anxieties amongst the team, we shifted to more realistic goals. The result is that the business is now motoring and the team are on the cusp of exceeding targets I had previously thought unattainable.
All this has injected a new lease of life into the team, with staff morale at an all-time high. I feel like we’re through the latest change.
So, what’s next?
With our current setup I am confident that we can double the business before we need to make any more changes.
I wince a bit at the prospect of the inevitable pain that will come with the next development phase. No doubt I’ll take the plunge again but this time with more realistic expectations and a happier team coming with me.