My tough love approach (heavy on the love) focuses on bringing order to chaos, and creating solid (and straightforward) strategic plans. I take surveys for fun, never met a process I didn’t like, and am a big believer in personal growth as a keystone to business growth.
One of the benefits of being an Online Business Manager is that I get to see behind the scenes of many different businesses across many different niches.
I love learning from the differences between them, but I love even more seeing the commonalities.
No matter what industry or niche they’re in, any business can only sustainably scale when they take time to evaluate the business regularly.
My favourite evaluation method is the Six Lenses. It hones in on the six key areas of business that drive growth so you’re always addressing the area that’s in the greatest need and will have the greatest impact when addressed.
The Six Lenses help ensure you’re not focusing on the wrong things and accidentally stalling your growth.
Here are some of the most common pitfalls I see online business owners falling into.
There will be times where we may have to work a little more, or a little harder, in our business. That’s not what I’m talking about when I talk about hustling.
Rather, I’m talking about the toxic mindset that prioritizes work and growth over anything else.
It’s a mindset that says if you’re not working, you’re not doing anything worthwhile. And while constantly hustling and grinding can quickly lead to money and fame, it doesn’t lead to long-term growth and it definitely doesn’t scale. Constantly working for work’s sake leads to burnout for ourselves and our teams.
Prioritizing fast growth means taking shortcuts and cutting corners, which leads to redoing work and reinventing processes (which is different from refining processes). Team members and customers are lost because there isn’t a path for them to follow. Everything moves so fast that the business becomes reactive instead of proactive. It’s about putting out the next fire rather than preventing fires.
I’ve seen so many businesses spin their wheels to hit a revenue goal, then burn out. If you find yourself feeling pressured to get moving a little faster, take that as a sign to pause. Question where that pressure is coming from, and what that means in the long run for your business’s sustainable growth. Give yourself permission to take it slow.
On the flip side, I’ve also seen businesses miss out on amazing opportunities and struggle because they’ve taken their stance on Hustling and Grinding to the opposite extreme, telling themselves that if something is hard or uncomfortable it’s not “aligned” and therefore should be avoided.
I wholeheartedly disagree with this philosophy. Growth is sometimes hard. It sometimes takes work. Hustling in order to take advantage of a great opportunity that is aligned with your mission and goals is sometimes worth doing.
It only makes sense that you’re going to find some things hard in your small business, especially when it’s just you or you and a single team member. Building and running a business takes a wide variety of skill sets and there is no way you’re going to be great at it all and find it all easy.
So be willing to stretch your comfort zone. Do the hard things sometimes. Hustle a bit when the opportunity is worth it.
Remember, everything in moderation—including moderation.
Making an educated guess based on data and evidence is a vital part of growing a business. Assumptions, however, are often bias, and typically have no evidence or direct knowledge to back them up.
When we assume, we aren’t making an educated guess; we’re just taking a shot in the dark.
Making assumptions about our clients, business, or tools can lead to making costly, uninformed decisions. Just because you might live in the United States (for example) doesn’t mean your most engaged audience lives in the U.S.
If we don’t look at our audience data before running an ad campaign, we may miss out on more cost effective conversions.
Just because we generated $100K in revenue last year, doesn’t mean we’ll automatically generate $100K in revenue this year. We have to know where our revenue comes from, what we did to generate that year, and note any changes in circumstances either last year or this year.
Yes, there will be times where you don’t have access to the data and no way to get it (it’s rare, but it happens). In those cases, making well reasoned assumption will have to do, but you want to then put the assumption to the test and ensure the data proves it to be true.
But before you move forward on an assumption please make sure you’ve attempted to find the data.
Often new business owners will say they don’t know who their ideal client is or what they want, but what they really mean is—I’m too scared to do any customer or market research myself and don’t have the funds to hire someone to do it for me.
If it is within your means to get the data, get the data.
Test everything. If you set up your funnel, don’t assume it works. It’s very easy to miss one small step in an automation and then your funnel is broken. Instead of assuming it works, take time to test it. Or, hire someone to do it. If you believe your Ideal Client responds to the idea of being the CEO of their business, test that language in your marketing.
Report odd happenings. Don’t always assume that the weird thing you’re experiencing is normal, that it’s happening to everyone, or that someone else reported it. If your tech isn’t working, report it and find out if it’s a widespread problem or if it’s your particular tech stack. If you see a bunch of small charges on your Stripe account, check it out and report it! That recently happened to me and in that case, it was fraud: someone was stealing credit cards and testing small amounts with random Stripe accounts.
If you ever find yourself saying, “I assume,” or “I think,” that’s a sign to stop and do some investigating and gather some data.
Balancing business expenses is a skill. It’s fine to be mindful of business investments, but we want to be careful that we’re not sacrificing the overall ROI just because we want to find the least expensive VA or only work with free design templates.
For example, I was spending 3-5 hours each month with manual workarounds that could have been automated if I’d upgraded to the premium version of my project management tool. I was manually running reports, tracking my time in another app, manually recording tasks from my email into my task list, etc., etc.
When I finally stopped to analyze it, I could have saved $150-$250 of my time per month if I'd just invested the $40 in the premium version!
The same goes for hoarding work, where you do things yourself because it feels easier than letting your Virtual Assistant handle it, or having to coach them through edits. Yes, it may feel easier to do it yourself, but what’s the actual value of that time? Where else could you be spending those hours that could actually grow your business instead?
On the flip side of pinching pennies and hoarding work, overspending can be a problem for obvious reasons. It shrinks our profit and doesn’t always have a demonstrable return on investment.
In my experience, overspending tends to be an issue of confidence. We don’t know what we don’t know, and that discomfort can make it feel like we’re missing something. So we pay for course after course, tool after tool, and we don’t really get anything valuable out of it. They often sit there gathering cyber dust because we don’t have the time or expertise to implement them.
The truth is, you probably already know more than enough to just try to do the thing. Do it your way for now, even if it doesn’t seem as fine tuned as your business idol’s way of doing things. Spend the money when you’re actually ready to upgrade, like when your volume increases or you need features that aren’t possible with your existing system.
When I first started out, I paid for a fancy proposal software. But based on the number of proposals I sent, it didn’t make sense. I ended up designing a “nice enough” professional looking proposal in a Google doc and it worked just fine.
Also, instead of automatically seeking a consultant or subcontractor to build out a new project, consider letting your team try. They’re capable humans who learn and grow from trying new things, just like you and me. Set the project, assign ownership, and trust them to make it happen.
If you find yourself expecting results just because you’re paying for something, that’s a sign to pause. Assess if you really need the course, tool, or service. Does your team already have the skills need to reach the minimum viable result? Are you trying to bypass a problem or the discomfort of action by throwing money at it?
Feedback on our offers, marketing, and processes can be helpful. It’s not helpful when we react to that random feedback without gathering more information or checking in to see if the feedback is worth acting upon.
Just because one person says a link isn’t working, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to panic and add extra pressure on our team. It may be the customer’s computer, browser, or internet connection causing the issue. Treat it like any other customer service inquiry and troubleshoot individually. If more reports come in, then it may be time to escalate it.
When you’re looking for feedback, don’t ask your spouse, kids, parents, or friends. Mentors and coaches are a helpful source of feedback but don’t rely on them alone. Get feedback from your actual ideal clients.
When you get feedback take time to assess it before implementing. Is the suggester an ideal client? Would implementing the feedback be on mission? How would implementing the feedback affect our goals and deadlines? The key is to gather as much info as possible so you can make an informed decision from there.
Two data points don’t make a trend! If you happen to have two emails that get lower open rates, it doesn’t automatically mean you’re on a downward trend. I once had a client who sent a panicked message that they went from a 40% open rate to a 16% open rate. When we looked at the data, they’d only had a 40% open rate once, then 29%, 27%, 26%, 28%, and the most recent was 16%. The 40% open rate was an outlier just like the 16% open rate, so they didn’t have to panic yet.
If you find yourself checking metrics and panicking, that’s a sign to pause. Look at bigger sets of data from week to week or month to month or quarter to quarter. Also, look at your data year over year. You may find that open rates tend to drop at a certain time of year, like in July when your audience might be taking vacations, or September when everyone and their mother are promoting something..
Build regular checks and balances into your operations so that you know when you should start taking action. The happy coincidence is that the more regularly you assess and plan your business, the less likely you’ll be to panic about anything because you’ll be able to spot potential problems on the horizon.
Scheduling regular assessment and planning sessions naturally gives us time and space to address these common, often sneaky, things that accidentally stall our business growth. Check out this blog about no-fluff quarterly planning and this one about my favourite way to assess my and my clients’ businesses to stay on a smooth, sustainable path to growth.
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