Running a small business is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle…without the box

No one really knows what they’re doing.

When it comes to starting a small business, few of us have a clue what we’re doing.  No one really knows what to expect.  We’re all jumping into the unknown. The only difference is some of us face bigger unknowns than others.

However, one thing remains the same: Every business owner has an idea of what they want to do and why they want to do it.  But the rest?  Well, I believe we often make it up as we go… filling in the missing bits as we go. 

And because no one really knows what they’re doing, some of you will make it … and some of you will not. In NZ, one in three won’t make it past year two.

Maybe you can be more successful if you avoid making the same mistakes others have made when they failed. Unfortunately, according to so-called experts, you’ll find there are as many reasons why small businesses fail as there are businesses and owners.  Not helpful.  Also, not true. There’s only one reason why businesses fail (look in a mirror if you want the answer).

And it’s the same the other way around – i.e. what makes a business successful?  Too much different – and sometimes conflicting advice – to be of any help.

If you  believe the advice that’s spewed online, you’re led to believe having a successful business is as simple as just getting a certain part of your business right by doing ‘this’ or doing ‘that’.  Normally that’s followed by an offer from whoever is telling you this, and for the right price they’ll tell you their secret … so you too can be as successful as they say they are.

I’m calling bullshit on this!

Every business is unique

Why? Because they’re intentionally ignoring two very simple truths of EVERY small business. 

  1. Business is both a system in itself as well as part of a bigger system which is changing all the time.  This means that if you change any part of your business, it impacts other parts of your business, which impacts your business as a whole.  And as you and your business change, so does the environment your business exists within – i.e. the other businesses and people you transact with.  And at exactly the same time, any changes by or to the other businesses and people you interact with will impact you and your business. 
  • Every business is as unique as its owner.  Each business has its own unique owner(s), employees, customers, values, goals, location, services/products, pricing, terms of trade … and the list goes on.  For one owner, their business could be a job.  For others, it could be a way for them to derive meaning from life; or maybe an expression of their passion; or maybe a burden they don’t know how to escape from. 

What does this mean for you?

It’s simple:

  • There is no one quick fix for any business problem; and
  • What works or has worked for one business is unlikely to work for your business unless you understand what you’re changing and how it fits best into your business.

The only shortcut is skipping straight to the thing that works for you.

The truth (which I don’t have evidence to prove, other than my own life/business experience) is that taking someone else’s secret and pushing that into your business is, more often than not, not going to work.  It may even create more problems (which invariably you go searching for more answers from people who solved those problems). 

And when it doesn’t work, you’ll always hear excuses like “you didn’t follow my instructions”, or “that sometimes happens … you just need to …” (not that they told you upfront this could happen), and so on …

On some occasions, taking someone else’s answer and pushing it into your business might work.  But let me be very clear.  That’s the exception, not the rule.  Doctor Who said it best: “even a broken clock can be right twice a day”.  Which means, even a dumbass can get it right every now and again.  Doesn’t mean they’re right.

What’s overlooked in all of this is ‘YOU’. 

They’re telling you how it worked for them … and you ain’t them!!

Let me explain what I know.

Building a business is like building a jigsaw without the box

When you start a business it’s a lot like you’ve been given a jigsaw puzzle without the box – you have no idea of the big picture.  You just have a bag of pieces.  So you open your bag and start putting together YOUR puzzle.

In the meantime, every other business owner is doing the same thing with their jigsaw puzzle.

Everyone’s jigsaw is different.

No one knows what they’ve got and no one knows when (or even if) they will complete their jigsaw.  That’s because no one is ever really happy with the jigsaw they got. They’re always looking to get more … or to get what they want an easier way … as if there was some sort of shortcut.  So some business owners will discard pieces, manipulate pieces, or acquire pieces from elsewhere (beg, steal, borrow …).

On top of that you have the Government which keeps changing the rules so pieces get taken away, or new pieces are thrown in and mixed into your pile without you knowing. 

And if that wasn’t challenging enough, you also have to deal with constant changes to technology which is like altering the surface you’re using to put your jigsaw together on.

As you should be able to appreciate, this makes building your jigsaw puzzle without a guide pretty damn challenging.

Human nature being what it is, you’ll want to find shortcuts. You’ll want to copy other people who look like they have completed more of their jigsaw puzzle than you.

And there’s no shortage of people who say they have done more of their jigsaw puzzle offering to help you … for a price.  Just buy this piece of my jigsaw puzzle and your marketing will be solved.  Just take the advice in my book or my article and you’ll be fine …

It’s damn enticing.  Save some time/money following someone else’s advice and not have to continue floundering trying to get it right (I call this business by trial and error – i.e. learning). 

Been there, done that myself (listened to others I mean … twice … spoiler alert … didn’t work … both times … only silver lining was paid a lot of time, money and stress learning how not to do something).

Forcing pieces of a jigsaw to fit where they’re not supposed to go, doesn’t work

If you have ever put a jigsaw together in the past, you probably remember a time when you tried to put a ‘wrong’ piece into the jigsaw that really belonged elsewhere.  What happened?

One of two things:

  1. The piece didn’t fit properly – i.e. there are gaps, or bent edges, or it rips, or the pieces around rip/bend to ‘fit’.  To make it fit, you’re going to have to modify the shape of the piece you’re trying to fit into the jigsaw, or you’re going to have to modify the shape of the pieces around the piece you’re trying to fit into the jigsaw.  And it’s this process that is almost always ignored because the person selling you their piece has very little idea of what’s important to you or your business and therefore won’t know how to fit it into your business properly.  When pieces don’t fit properly in business, you’ll see processes/systems not working as they used to; people getting upset or leaving; you or your team spending more time doing other things you didn’t have to do before just to keep things working properly …

… and/or …

  • The piece fits fine, but the picture on the piece makes no sense alongside the pieces it fits into – it will be like a collage of different pictures jumbled together with no clear big picture.  A mixture of parts that fit together but don’t work together to give a complete picture.  In business, this shows itself as a business, or teams or people doing lots (and lots getting done), but no one is actually getting anywhere, and no one really knows why they are doing what they are doing.

Stop buying other people’s jigsaw pieces in the hope your business will do better. Unless they also offer ways to work with you and find the best way to fit their piece into YOUR business.  From my own experience, people who really know what they’re doing and will work in with YOUR business are very rare.

So where does that leave you if you can’t trust, or rely, on other people offering their help for a price?  Does this mean you’re stuck building your jigsaw puzzle without a guide by yourself by trial and error?

Nope!  There is a way.  It’s dead simple and you don’t have to pay me anything to know it.  I’m going to tell you … for FREE … and I don’t expect anything in return. And just because I’m telling you FREE doesn’t mean its valueless. It just means I’m sick and tired of watching business owners throwing away money on advice from so called experts that ends up wasting time/money/energy.

How to build your business without the box

Rather than continue to flounder by trial and error to build your jigsaw puzzle in the dark, and rather than be enticed by the ‘sirens’ of the business ocean into doing what they say only to fall onto the rocks trying, you could rely on some basic ‘hacks’ to building your puzzle when you don’t have a guide.

  • Sort through your pieces and pick out the pieces that have a flat edge and group them together;
  • Sort through your pieces and find the ‘corner’ pieces (assuming your jigsaw has corners and isn’t a circle)
  • Sort through your pieces and group pieces with the same colours

Once you have done that, you can work on the edges first, and then you can focus on the pieces with the same colours to create smaller chunks of your puzzle which may or may not link with other chunks of like coloured pieces (or edges).

And it’s the same in business.  Instead of trying to fix certain bits of your business you think are not working, go back to basics and focus on the fundamentals of YOUR business (there are only three of them):

The bottom line is … it’s your business – your jigsaw puzzle.

So what are you going to do?

Buy someone else’s jigsaw puzzle?  Just remember it will be YOUR rules you’ll be using when you run that business.  It’s either that or you have to change to become the previous owner to fit the business you bought (good luck with that).

Or …

Keep looking for and buying a never-ending supply of other people’s advice to shortcut completing your jigsaw.  Just never forget that unless you modify the advice you buy to fit into your business (or modify you and/or your business to fit the bought advice), don’t expect the same results you were promised.  Instead, plan for dealing with more problems.

Or …

Stop looking for shortcuts and learn the fundamentals of business that apply to YOUR business to build the jigsaw you were given.  All it takes is a little patience and willpower and you will make it.  And then if you want, you can offer your experience to others to help them do the same.

The choice is yours. Good luck!

If you’d like to talk to me about your business jigsaw, give me a call or send me an email. I’d love to hear from you!

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