Whoever said starting a business isn’t rocket science probably never started their own business.
It certainly feels like that sometime! Now, no disrespect to actual rocket scientists…I’m sure you’d beg to differ! I’m a chemical engineer by trade and I know you’ve got me beat, hands down. The same cliché that people use with rocket scientist can definitely be applied to entrepreneurs which is “if it were easy, everyone would be doing it.” There’s nothing simple about space exploration, no doubt. I even looked up what it takes to send an actual rocket into outer space. The diagram below is the “simplified” version of that feat: I have to admit that starting a business is obviously easier than the above diagram. In fact, I’ve built my entire business model around making work-life more efficient for the everyday entrepreneur. By the same token, if I simplify that diagram even further (and I mean super duper simplify it), I can see the similarities between a rocket launch and starting your own business. There are basically 4 stages to a rocket launch before it hits outer space. They are (1) Liftoff, (2) Separation (3) Payload and (4) Orbit.
Stage 1: Liftoff
You’ve heard this before, right…”Ignition in T minus 5, 4, 3, 2, 1″ and then a thunderous rumble, an ungodly plume of smoke and fire and then the rocket glides smoothly straight up to the sky. The next thing you hear is “We have liftoff!” You imagine a bunch of NASA employees in some complicated room of screens and computers high fiving each other and cheering. Am I the only one who gets choked up about that…nobody else? Fine…let’s move on. The liftoff stage in a rocket launch is where the most energy is used overall. There is the most amount of engines and equipment strapped to the rocket and it’s closest to the earth so there’s the gravitational inertia you have to overcome. Not to mention this is arguably the scariest stage since it’s the first step into the vast unknown. How does this compare to starting a business? Ironically, this is the stage where you are making some of the heaviest decisions in your business such as your business name, legal entity designation, product/service names, brand identity and that’s only if you don’t need any special certifications or designations in order to operate in your chosen field. Not to mention, in space exploration, there are a lot of unknowns, myths, and misunderstandings. All this upfront investment in team members, services, maybe even equipment and you don’t even know if it’s going to pan out. Overcoming that initial inertia can be scary, confusing, and even emotionally crippling. At the same time, if done right, it’s the foundation for everything successful about the whole mission. I have to tell you, though that at this point both the rocket and your business are susceptible to exploding.
“20% of small businesses with employees fail in their first year” According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Business Employment Dynamics,
Stage 2: Separation
If you’ve ever seen a rocket right after the impressive plumes of smoke and fire exiting its tail end while the ship soars through the sky, it’s quite the vision indeed. Then as it careens through the air, big chunks of equipment start falling off. If you’re anything like me, each time that happens, I’m like…was that supposed to happen? Guess they don’t need that thing anymore! At this stage, the rocket starts to jettison engines and equipment it doesn’t need anymore. Why? The additional weight will eventually become a hindrance to overall speed and direction as the rocket reaches the upper atmosphere. In other words, the rocket starts to skinny down into what’s necessary to get to the next stage. Right around the end of the first year that I was in business, I was sitting at my desk, hot tea on a coaster, getting colder and colder as I sat staring at my phone. I had just hung up from a difficult conversation with a client I’d worked with for about half the previous year. And when I say difficult, I don’t mean it was difficult for the client at all. The client was elated and grateful that I had provided the needed insights and a few wonderful a ha’s that they were looking for. But it was seriously pretty difficult for me. Yes, it was one of those situations where two people were in the same situation but having very different experiences. At that point, I realized why the conversation was so difficult for me but not the client. It was because I realized at that point they were not my ideal client. That meant that I had to start migrating away from my non-ideal clients and start engaging more with my ideal clients if I really wanted my business to reach its full potential. I also realized there were certain processes within my business that just didn’t work for me anymore or support my vision. These things actually hindered me from servicing my clients the way I really could be. In your business, after a while (usually around a year or so), you’ll discover that there are some things you need to cut loose. It’s not that these things are inherently bad or bad for business. In fact, these people or processes may have served an integral purpose up to this point (even if it’s just to reveal to you what you don’t want in your business). You’ve put in enough sweat equity to understand clearly the areas of financial opportunity and that DIY isn’t the only route to success. By that same token, you start thinking about what investment looks like in terms of team members, professional service providers, marketing, etc. Another thing that happens here is, kind of like the artificial intelligence system in The Terminator, you become self-aware (hopefully without the apocalyptic consequences). You start to realize, whether through feedback from others, lost deals, or just the two eyes God installed in your head, that how you appear online or in print just doesn’t reflect the awesome quality and expertise you are capable of delivering. You start wanting to fine-tune your offering and your goals for where you want to be 3 – 5 years down the line, even if you aren’t completely clear on how you’ll get there. Of course, I have to mention that as with rocket ships, your business is susceptible to exploding at this stage.
“34% of businesses with employees tend to fail in their 2nd year.”
Stage 3: Payload
MIT mathematicians and Stanford engineers spend hours, gallons of coffee, and pounds of antacids toiling over calculations and simulations in every single aspect of getting the rocket off the ground, into space, and back again. Rocket science is a highly precise profession. There’s no accident that the rocket is launching on that particular day and at that particular time just so the rocket will hit the stratosphere at just the right angle and location. After liftoff, and after some weighty equipment has been offloaded, several smaller engines that remain are dedicated to course correcting the rocket’s trajectory in order to hit the atmosphere at precisely the right spot and angle. The reason for all of this exhaustive work is because of the payload, which is the main thing the rocket is meant to carry to outer space whether that be humans, plant-life, ballistics or a Tesla with a fake astronaut sitting in it (because some people just can’t figure out what else to do with all that spare money…Helloooo!!! *pointing my finger directly at my own face*). Remember when all you could do in Facebook was update your relationship status and take pictures of the plate of food you’re about to eat (caption: I’m about to Grub!!!). Now, you can promote your business, sell your old computer, create groups of like-minded geniuses, and so much more! Facebook has changed a lot in a relatively short period of time since 2004. Similar to how you as a business owner evolve with your business. At this point in your business journey, you understand a lot more about who you want to serve and why, but it does take some time and effort to actually get there. This stage is where a good amount of course correcting in your business will occur. You start to specify how you plan on not only making money but making a profit and oftentimes, DIY is not the answer. The journey to your goals becomes less like:
“I’m going to sell stuff on my website and people will buy them…that’s the process.”
and more like:
“I’ll generate leads by creating an opt-in form that I will promote using a Facebook ad. Once they become a lead, I’ll then send them to a thank you page with an ad for my entry level products allowing them to make an instant purchase. If they don’t purchase right away, I’ll send them an email campaign 2 two days later with helpful information and a link back to the landing page where they have another opportunity to make a purchase. Then lastly, they are directed to an online intake form where I gather information about their desired goals and start delivering the service….”
See the difference? In order to have that level of specificity to your process, you will need map out each and every step, and walk through that map as if you are the client. You will also discover the tools and systems that are needed to support this detailed process. You’ll fine-tune your goals and envision how you want your market to see your business. Now, now…you ought to know what’s coming next because both your business and the rocket can even explode at this point as well.
50% of small business with employees will fail in the fifth year. Don’t be skerred…I’ll share some info on why this is a little further down.
Stage 4: Orbit
In a manned mission to the space station, the astronauts have been jostled around and have just endured 3x G-forces and then…stillness. They start to feel weightless and unlatch their safety harnesses to float out of their chairs and do what?….get straight to work. Whether that work is checking the condition of their ship or checking that the condition of the experiments they are supposed to be running are intact. Meanwhile, special maneuvers and any remaining engines are keeping the rocket on track to reach the space station and start the mission. Now let’s think of this stage in terms of your business. You’re sitting back with your hands behind your head, feet on the desk and dressed in Tom Ford’s finest, fresh off your photo shoot for Bad-ass Boss Magazine. The phone rings with, I believe the ringtone is: Wake Yo’ A$$ UP and get back to work!!! Yea…you’re not quite there yet but you can say that you are really clear about the destination and the objectives you need to accomplish to get there. You have a better understanding of your needs and have started onboarding the right resources to support you on this journey. At this stage, there’s a lot less reliance on DIY and bootstrapping and instead, you sit back and let the experts do what they do best, while you focus on what you do best. You are trying out different tactics and implementing various strategies for success and checking the results along the way. Whatever or whoever is helping you to manage your way through this journey and connecting you to that space station…uh, I mean,…your end-state vision, is a keeper. Everyone else can move on to a better fit for them…not you. You’ve gone a few rounds with the ideal clients you identified in Stage 2 and now you see where you can refine your processes to support them even further. Houston…we have a problem. I bet you know what it is too. Both the rocket and your business could very well blow up at this point (there’s a lot of space junk between you and the space station you know).
“70% of small business with employees fail in their tenth year”
Why are all these businesses failing??
You don’t want to be the entrepreneur that sounds like you just stepped out of a 1950s Brando film talking about: “I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody…” Sometimes the best way to avoid a common pitfall is to find out why so many before you have fallen in it as well. Fortune magazine reported a study about the top reasons small businesses fail from the perspective of the founders of those businesses. The graphic below shows the top 10: Those are some really intimidating stats but if you’re anywhere from Stage 2 and on, then you realize you don’t have to do this alone. In fact, my Strategy Made Simple™ product directly addresses reasons 6, 7, 8, and a little less directly reasons 5 and 9…That’s half the list right there! If you’re not quite at Stage 2 yet…you’re still laying the groundwork, I do offer e-courses that may help you along the way.
No, starting a business isn’t easy…it’s not quite rocket science, but can feel like that sometimes. I’ve shown you the 4 Stages your business goes through as you embark on this journey through the great unknown
- Stage 1: Liftoff…You’ve got your work cut out for you. This is where the bulk of your energy will go. If you do this right, you can set yourself up to reach the stars.
- Stage 2: Separation…You are where the rubber meets the road. You’ve had some a’has and now you can use them to guide you into position to break through to the stratosphere.
- Stage 3: Payload…You’ve released the bulk of the weightier tasks and now you just need some course correction to position you for the next phase.
- Stage 4: Orbit…You are in the perfect position to achieve your goals and sustain them. You’ve done the prep, now it’s time for you to do what’s needed to glide into success!
This may seem like a lot to take in, but think about why you started a business in the first place. It certainly wasn’t just to coast and do as little work as possible (that comes later) nor was it to put up a bunch of seed money just so your business could fail 3 – 5 years down the line. No, it’s because you felt you had a passion for something, a solution to some piece of the world’s problems. You have something valuable to offer and it’s going to take some effort, clarity, and strategy to get there. If you haven’t done so already, take the Are You Ready To Launch Quiz™? and see what stage you’re in. I bet you will find it interesting and hopefully, you’ll find some inspiration to take you to the next Stage of your journey. Once you take the quiz, I’d be really interested in the results. Please share them in the comments section below!