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When is $5000 like $100000?

One of the first questions I ask business owners when we start working on their company is “What will it take to transform your business?”

I’m asking for several reasons – each of which are critical to knowing where you are with your business.

I want to find out what is top of mind – in other words, what tends to consume your thoughts about the business.

I want to learn what you’re focused on beyond that one thing – assuming there’s only one.

I want to know how big your thinking is.

And I want to know what’s next – but sometimes, that isn’t important yet.

That payroll thing

Why? Because another issue that’s consuming your thoughts has a way of blocking your ability to think clearly about anything strategic, including what’s next.

The issue that usually does this? Making payroll.

The pressure of making payroll has a way of becoming such a focus that it distracts you in the worst sort of way – like an itch you can’t scratch.

To make serious strategic progress on your business, whether you’re working with a coach or trying to grow things on your own, you need to get things to the point where you aren’t totally consumed with the worry (or fear) of not making payroll every week.

A little bit of that fear is probably a good thing – but the key reason to eliminate it is that when payroll isn’t the number one thing weighing on you day-in and day-out, you’ll be able to think far more clearly and more strategically about your business.

In other words, I’ll get a much better answer to the original question, “What will it take to transform your business?”

Five K

More often than not, the solo business owner answers that question with a number in the neighborhood of $5,000. Per month, that is.

This, despite the fact that my “transform” question said nothing about revenue,  money or payroll. The vagueness of the question lets them reveal their focus.

If five grand is the difference between confidently making payroll and the distraction of sweating payroll down to the last few hours every week, it’s usually an indication of some basic things that aren’t getting done – most of them related to paying attention to the details that your customers (and your customer database) should be none too shy about.

Once you get past the FiveK challenge, you can start focusing on the things that still might keep you up at night, but in a good way rather than in that payroll-induced cold sweat, how do I avoid laying someone off kind of way.

I don’t know

With the smallest businesses, it’s not unusual to get no answer to the “transform” question, or “I don’t know.”

That usually means you’re part of the FiveK club and don’t want to admit it, or you’re so involved in creating what your business delivers that you spend way too little time thinking about (much less working on) the strategic aspects of your business.

If you don’t want to admit the FiveK thing, it might be because you think no one else is in the same boat. The reality is that lots of businesses are one bad revenue month away from punting and starting a job search.

If that sounds like your situation, you’re probably so focused on making payroll (paying the minimum on bills, etc) that you risk taking your eye off the ball strategically, as well as in in ways that your customers will notice.

Getting the FiveK monkey off your back starts with marketing – even if you don’t have money for a marketing budget – and attention to basics like follow up, customer service and the sales your customer database can tell you about.

The bottom line

My goal is to bring transformational improvement to a client – which is pretty tough to do when they’re worried about this week’s payroll. The FiveK thing is nothing to be ashamed of, but it should make you want to take action. It’s simply a step along the road, even if the only one on the payroll is you.

Another place to deal with this is your customers. Ask them two simple questions: “What are we doing wrong?” “What are we doing right?”

Listen, but don’t take the answers personally. Take action.

PS: When is $5000 like $100000? When you don’t have it.