Is your business a sprint or a marathon?

There are a lot of entrepreneurs who are running a sprint. They work an untold number of hours — racing the clock, giving up a life today for some greater reward in the future. It’s a high-stakes, high-risk gamble that, by doing what others won’t today, they will get to enjoy what others can’t later. I understand the thinking — but I know it’s not for me! I’m not a gambler, I don’t play the lottery. I have young kids, and there’s no amount of money later that can pay me back for time with them now. So that plan doesn’t work for me.

sprint or marathon

Others say that they are lifetime entrepreneurs, but they are really just running a series of sprints. They start a new business every two or three years, calling themselves “serial entrepreneurs”. I don’t understand this either. Starting new businesses is hard. While the start-up phase is thrilling, and you learn a lot, I’m not sure what skills you are building. What are you getting good at in that process?

Instead, I’m running a marathon. I started one business, and I’m looking to stay in it for a long time. I want to get good at it so that I can earn good money, deliver excellent value, and still have a full and rich life. That doesn’t mean I’m adverse to change — there have already been lots of changes in my business — but the fundamental business is the same.

In a marathon you have to pace yourself. You can’t take off like a rabbit right from the starting gun; you’ll run out of energy before you get to the finish line. Also, you need to know the course. Parts of the course will take you up hills, parts of it will take you down hills. There will be some sun and some shade. Knowing what’s ahead means you can anticipate the hills and adjust your stride. Lastly, you need water and nourishment along the way to keep up your stamina, so you can finish the race.

If you, like me, are running a marathon in your business and not a sprint, here are some things you are going to need:

1. Persistence.

Entrepreneurial journeys have ups and downs. There will be days when clients are lined up at the door and you can’t hire fast enough, and there will be days when it’s like nuclear winter with not a scrap of work to be found. If you are in it for the long haul, neither situation will throw you. When they are lined up at the door, you will serve all you can. When work is scarce, you will find a way to keep going.

There’s always a temptation, when things get tough, to start something new. Now that you know all the limitations in your current business it seems attractive to find a new business where you can see all the opportunities (and none of the limitations). That’s a trap! You are giving up something you know for a lot of unknowns. If you have persistence you will stay the course and solve the problems with your current business.

2. Margin.

Remember, this isn’t a sprint — you need to pace yourself. So whatever resources you have that can run short — like time, energy, money, friends, supporters, or any resource you need to be successful — will need to be replenished along the way.

I used to look at my calendar and keep adding meetings until there was no white space. But that pace is exhausting, it leaves me no time to think or breathe, (or go to the bathroom). I’m a better leader when I have some time to unwind and think bigger thoughts. And I’m not talking taking vacation time, I’m talking about getting this time every day! Time to look at the implications of what I heard in those meetings. Time to step back and review all that is going on with my clients and my business.

I need to charge enough for my services so that I can afford that time. I need to charge enough so that I can buy new computers when my current one gets old and slow; enough so that I have something to live on when the nuclear winter comes. A successful business needs to cultivate margin.

3. Focus.

There are about 1000 things I can do to improve my business today, but I can’t do all of them. If I plan to do two or three things today I might actually finish them before I run off and start something else. This means that every day there are about 997 things that I could do to help my business that don’t get done. And they won’t get done tomorrow either. I have to learn to tolerate that in order to maintain enough focus to get done just the two or three tasks that I have planned to do.

4. Priority setting.

The key to maintaining that focus and tolerating all those good things that I could do, but that don’t get done, is to have a clear set of priorities. Since there is always more to do than there is time and energy to do it you need to get really clear about what things are most important. You need to know where you are headed and ruthlessly measure your progress toward getting there. The secret is not doing more, but knowing what the most important things are and doing those things.

5. Confidence.

Self-doubt is a huge suck on your energy and productivity. If you do the work to free up time to focus, and set priorities, but then you doubt the priorities you set and have to re-examine them over and over, you will not make progress in your business. If you have confidence, based on experience and regular feedback from people you trust, you can spend less time planning, questioning and re-examining — and more time boldly doing!

Regular relationships with people who know you and know your business are essential to building your confidence. There are millions of folks out there writing articles and selling information that is designed to distract you from what is most important for you. Find people who can cheer you on and spend regular time with them; avoid folks who feed your fear and doubt. This is where a business coach or mastermind group can really help you. They can provide a place where you can take those doubts and fears and trade them in for more accurate feedback. They can hear your process and confirm your decisions (when they are solid) or redirect you (when they aren’t) so that you are less likely to be blown back and forth.

Since I know I’m going the whole 26.2 miles, I need to make sure that I’m maintaining the energy, stamina and health in both me and in my business to endure to the end.

What are you doing to make your business last? What are you doing to keep your own energy and enthusiasm high?

Photo credit: Official U.S. Navy Imagery

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