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Bill Collier's Small Business Truisms

Small Business Truism #1: Your business exists to serve you; not the other way around.


I call this the "Purpose" for being a business owner.


Basically, you're not in business for the sake of being in business. You're in business to enhance your life and the lives of your family members. Your business is simply a tool - a means - for achieving that end.


This concept is easy to understand but even easier to violate. I meet small business owners all the time who say things like, "Someday I'll be able to start a retirement fund, after the business is doing better." Or, "I hope to someday get my personal income back where it was when I worked for someone else."


The first year or so after starting up, working long hours and taking a pay cut are to be expected. But, there's a big difference between getting stuck in cycle of struggling endlessly to get your business up to speed and making continuous, noticeable progress through the (hopefully short) start-up period.


If you are stuck on dead center and can't get over the hump into the land of profitability, first make sure you're cut out for the role of business owner. Are you passionate about being an entrepreneur? Assuming you are, next check your attitude toward Small Business Truth #1.


Struggling for a short time before pushing through to prosperity is noble and heroic. Struggling for a lifetime is senseless. If your company is stuck in an endless cycle of too little cash and not enough hours in your day, you can almost certainly find the solution in Small Business Truisms 2 & 3 - if  you have the discipline to apply them.


Best Practice: Take a hard look at any gap that may exist between your current circumstances and where you'd like to be. This includes income, net worth, time off work, or any other way you'd like to measure success. Do you realistically believe you can close that gap within an acceptable period of time? If not, what is needed to get you there? Be brutally honest with yourself. Resolve to muster up the discipline and do the hard work needed to make significant progress toward closing this gap in the next year.


Small Business Truism #2: If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there.

This is the "Preparation & Planning" piece of business ownership.   

Here, in a nutshell, is the process I recommend:

  1. Set personal goals. What do you want out of your business, now and in the future?
  2. Establish a long-range vision for the business, consistent with your personal goals.
  3. Establish a 3 year business vision, along with specific 3 year goals, consistent with the long-range vision.
  4. Develop a brief (1-2 pages max) 1 year business plan, consistent with your 3 year vision and goals.

This annual business plan is your company's guiding document. It literally guides your quarterly, monthly, weekly and daily activities. It includes the specific strategies you'll use to reach your goals, and lays out clear accountabilities - who will do what by when. Accompanying your annual plan is a marketing plan - also 1-2 pages max.


Can you imagine a house being built without a plan to guide the workers' activities? The very idea is absurd. So, why operate a business that way?


For most Americans, their home is their biggest asset. For most of us small business owners, though, our company makes up the majority of our net worth. Each of us depends on our business for our present income, our future retirement, and our family's general well-being. Yet, many small business owners drift aimlessly - letting each day's emergencies pull them in various directions. 


The difference between success and failure - even between success and mediocrity - starts here. The old saying says it best: "Plan your work, and work your plan."


Best Practice: Consider taking a "Planning Retreat" in the fall of the year - at the very least, a half day, although a full day or more would be better. If you're married, take your spouse and talk about the personal goals you both have. Then, think through your business vision, goals and begin formulating a plan for next year. 

Small Business Truism #3: If you put in long hours, have trouble getting away from work for more than a day or two at a time, and don't make any more money than you did when you worked for someone else, you haven't created a business. You've created a job.


This is the "Execution" piece of business ownership.  


Finally, after all the goal-setting and planning, action is the thing that pushes you across the goal line. 


In my book, I identify 11 key areas in which small businesses must execute in order to achieve outstanding results. They include hiring, retention, delegation, use of key performance indicators, and 7 more. I offer a free self-assessment tool - more on that below.


Michael Gerber coined the phrase, "Work on your business, not just in your business", in his classic business book, The E-Myth. (You have read it, haven't you?) Much of the stuff you'll find in my 11 key areas of execution requires you to do exactly that.


Yes, it's hard work. Yes, it's tough to find the time to get all your other work done and also do all this "business-building" stuff. But the results 1 year, 5 years, and 10 years from now will be astonishing ... and well worth the effort.


Best Practice: Set aside a specific day and time each week for working on your business - even if it's only 30 minutes at a time. This may include planning, reviewing results, improving systems, coaching your employees ... whatever proactive activities will get and keep your business on the road to success.

Bill Collier is a St. Louis-based business coach, consultant and speaker. He is the author of the book “How to Succeed as a Small Business Owner … and Still Have a Life.” His website is, and his email is

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