The secret sauce to building an indestructible business

“The best part about entrepreneurship is that you get to choose your own hours! Choose any 100 hours of the week you want — and work them!” (Click to tweet)

That was how I got introduced to entrepreneurship. Give up your job, give up your life, and work like hell.

This presented a problem. See, I was a single dad with three young kids. Working 100 hours of the week wasn’t feasible! I wasn’t starting a business that was going to “scale” to be huge. I wasn’t interested in looking for a big inflow of OPM (Other People’s Money in start-up parlance). I just wanted to find a way to make a living, while still having a life, and have a healthy business.

I’m not saying that I didn’t work hard; I did. There were late nights, early mornings, and weekends at my computer. But since I wasn’t starting a business that was going to attract a lot of investor money, I knew that this pace of work was not just for a couple of years, but more likely for a couple of decades. I wasn’t at liberty to give up all my discretionary time “now”, in order to get more back “later.” I had kids “now” — they’d be grown up later. I wanted a healthy business that worked; both now and later.

I don’t hear a lot of people addressing this issue. There’s a lot of talk about the “big bang theory” of entrepreneurship: work insane hours, grow really fast (using lots of OPM) so that you can sell to a big company and make millions! But not every business is going to scale like that. A lot of business owners don’t want to sell. (Well, maybe someday…) Many business owners are left without any sort of guidance about how to lead a healthy business and lead a life.


The first truth about living a successful life is this: humans have limits. I have limits, you have limits. We can’t do it all.

If I don’t get enough sleep I’m not mentally sharp. I also get crabby, irritable. It’s not a pretty picture. If I don’t eat every 4 – 6 hours I run out of gas. These are limits. I may not like them but they are there.

When my business was first getting started and I was running from appointment to appointment, booked in back to back phone calls, I realized that I had to schedule time to use the bathroom. Some things just won’t wait until the business is more mature and stable!

Just like the limits our bodies face, our businesses also have limits. When you cross the boundary of these limits, your business may not fail immediately, but you will see signs. It starts to get irritable and crabby. It performs poorly. How close to the red line are you on the gauges for your limits?

The absolute limit

When your body runs out of oxygen you are dead. When your business runs out of money, and customers, you are out of business. If you have customers you can get money, if you have money you can get customers. But if you don’t have either — you’re done. This is the wolf at every business owner’s door. I don’t think any business owner doesn’t know this in their gut. When I ask business owners what they are thinking about when they lay awake in the middle of the night, this is their #1 answer.

Because this is the one limit we can’t deny, or rationalize away, we run like hell to stay ahead of it. Most business owners are highly focused on this fundamental limit. But this is not the only limit your business faces. The other limits aren’t quite as absolute — you can live on borrowed time for weeks, or even months. But these other limits will kill the health of your business just as surely.

Personal Resources

YOU are also a limitation for your business. Take you out of your small business and what happens? It might continue for a time, but most small businesses rely heavily on the business owner’s drive, energy and experience to maintain forward momentum. There are some that grow past this point, and that’s a very positive development when it happens. But for those of us who aren’t there yet, it represents a fundamental limit. You have to maintain your energy, drive and enthusiasm for this business in order to enable it to thrive and keep your business healthy.

You need to continue to want to do this job. It’s got to continue to be fun for you — the rewards (learning, relationship, financial, status) have to continue to be worth it for you. Where is this gauge in your life and business? Is your personal tank getting drained or is it constantly being renewed?

Community Resources

As hard as you work to maintain a healthy business, you can’t do it all yourself. We all have a few folks we can call who will do us a favor, who can help us with things we don’t know or understand. People who refer us clients, employees, vendors –any of the resources we need in order to be successful. Maintaining that community is key to a healthy business and your business’ success.

This resource tends to shrink with time. The top referral sources that helped me start my business are almost all gone — they either moved (geographically), moved on to different jobs or business, or just faded away. Time depletes this pool and if you aren’t actively building your community it will start to shrink. What’s happening in your support network? Is it expanding or shrinking?

You also run a balance sheet with your employees, balancing what you give them with what they give you. If this ledger gets out of balance, resentment grows (in either direction) and you approach a natural limit. Where would we be without those team members who give 110% every time? Are they getting thanked and appreciated? Are their opportunities growing? What does this balance look like in your business?

Acknowledging limits doesn’t make us weak or vulnerable. Like gravity, they exist whether we recognize them or not. By looking for them and measuring them we can manage our relationship to them. We can recognize that we need more sleep and cancel that evening event so that we can go to bed early. We can understand that our team might need an afternoon outing instead of another late night at work, and we can make that happen for them. We can see that our community is shrinking and get involved in a cause we care about, or an industry group where we can meet new folks.

If we really want a healthy business, we need to recognize our limits and find ways to gauge how close we are to hitting them. With a dashboard of gauges we can monitor regularly, we can make sure we don’t run out of any of the provisions that are essential to this journey.

What does your dashboard show? Which tanks are full? Which ones are empty? How are you maintaining a healthy business?

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