The secret to scaling any business

Updated to Business on December 14, 2022.

I was in a car the other day with a radiologist and a neurosurgeon talking about hypertension. 

This conversation is actually not as unusual as it might sound. I volunteer for a local society that does trail clearing in a popular hiking and mountain bike park and many of the volunteers happen to be recently retired doctors. 

Back in the car, one of the doctors happened to mention that recently his medical partner, who is in his early 60’s, had a mild stroke. As we wound our way further up the dirt road to our work site my education continued. 

I learned that strokes are the second biggest cause of mortality worldwide and the third most common cause of disability. The scary statistics get worse. As you age your chance of a stroke doubles every 10 years after 55

There’s a checklist of health conditions that make you more susceptible to a stroke, like obesity, high cholesterol, and diabetes. But the biggest culprit – six times out of ten – is hypertension or high blood pressure. In my books, that’s worth paying attention to.

What’s interesting is that stress, in itself, is not the direct cause of high blood pressure. It’s what we do when under stress that leads to nasty results. We eat too much, drink too much, and move too little. Basically, we deal with stress by making unhealthy choices.

For me, stress starts with worry.

Ngoc Son Temple, Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam

I’ve had a lot of worries

There is a world of problems you can worry about – take your pick. You can worry that Ukraine will be pummeled into a tiny province of rubble, or that we’ve passed the tipping point with global warming, or the tiny spot on your chin is cancer. 

Or not.

“I’ve had a lot of worries,” quipped Mark Twain “most of which never happened.” Our mind loves a good worry. Like a dog chewing a bone, we want to turn our worry around, looking from all angles, poking and prodding until it swells up into something bigger than it really is.

I used to worry incessantly before every keynote speech. I’d worry I’d miss my flight or wasn’t prepared enough, or I would be greeted by the “audience from hell.” Trust me, when you have 60 minutes to educate, entertain, inspire, motivate, and get laughs from an audience you’ve never met before, any sane person would invent a long list of worries.

It was at one of those events when a fellow speaker opened an exit door for my worries. He suggested that audiences don’t want you to fail – in fact, they want you to succeed. “They want to see you having fun—enjoying yourself. That way,” he explained, “they can enjoy the ride with you.”

When I accepted the long list of what I could never control – my flights, the audience, the speaker before me going overtime – I was free to focus on what I could control.

Enjoying the moment. 

What your life will have been

In her book, Comfortable with Uncertainty, Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön tells the story of delighting in the preciousness of every single moment.

A woman is running from lions. She runs and she runs, and the lions are getting closer. She comes to the edge of a cliff. She sees a vine there, so she climbs down and holds onto it. Then she looks down and sees that there are lions below her as well. At the same time, she notices a little mouse gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries emerging from a nearby clump of grass. She looks up, she looks down, and she looks a the mouse. Then she picks a strawberry, pops it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly.

Learning what to focus on, and what to ignore, seems to be the ultimate secret to living a healthy, stress-free life. “Whatever compelled your attention from moment to moment,” writes Oliver Burkeman in Four Thousand Weeks (a must-read for anyone over 50), “is simply what your life will have been.”

So, what are you focussing on?

What to focus on

You can learn a lot when you’re the dumbest one in a car full of doctors. I learned that strokes are a silent pandemic. And that hypertension is the leading cause of that pandemic. And I learned the leading cause of hypertension is stress. 

I was also reminded that stress is a choice.

We all have lions and tigers in our life. Maybe even a mouse or two gnawing away at something we value. Meanwhile, we have the moment.

Choosing what to focus on (and what not to) might just be the healthiest choice you can make.

Got this far? You might also like these posts:

Photo of eggs by Nik on Unsplash
Photo of Ngoc Son Temple by author
Photo of tigers by author

I can’t overstate this.

If you want to scale your business you need to get out of the way.

Maybe not the advice you were looking for, but it could be just what you need.

In the last seven years, I have consulted with over 200 small business owners. At the same time, I also turned a fledgling small business into a successful mid-6-figure exit. To quote master coach Marshall Goldsmith, this is what I learned: “What got you here won’t get you there.” In other words, the skills, strategies, systems, and thinking it takes to start a business are very different from what you need to make it bigger.

Here’s the first thing to understand…

You are replaceable

My guess is that you are the best at what you do.

In landscaping, you’re the best at securing big contracts or designing backyards. In real estate, you land the big listings. If you coach, teach or consult, chances are clients all ask for you.

And that’s a problem.

In a previous business, my corporate training company would deliver over 100 training days a year. The problem was that I delivered over 80 of them.
Once my ego accepted that there are people equally talented and ambitious everything changed. Finally, my business started to grow without me putting in more hours.

You might be the best at what you do, but there is always somebody who can also deliver what your customers need. After all, that’s what your competition does.

Fix problems with systems

Every problem in your business is a system waiting to be built.

Systems – like how you onboard a new client, or resolve a complaint – add massive value to a company. Systems, perfected over time, allow you to step away from the day-to-day running of your company. And – perhaps most importantly – systems make your company more attractive to a buyer.

Here’s the trick to building systems…

Before putting on your gloves to fix yet another problem, ask yourself: “What system do we need so this problem never happens again?”

Here are systems you might need:

  • Pipeline follow-up and reporting
  • Client quotations and follow up
  • Lead generation using email or LinkedIn
  • online performance reporting
  • Social media updates
  • Email drip campaigns
  • Automated billing
  • Client onboarding checklist
  • Client follow up and surveys
  • Onboarding new team members

If you are always fixing problems you’ll never add real value to your company. If you want to grow your business and create real value, build systems and get out of the way.

Get some urgency

Most business owners I know like being busy. They would never admit it, but being busy can be confused as being important.

They complain their lists keep getting longer and the problems never stop. Their weeks are a blur of To-Do lists that keep getting longer. Then one day they decide to take that long-overdue vacation and book a flight to somewhere warm.

Now they have urgency and chances are their focus turns towards what’s urgent, not simply what’s important.

Urgency (like leaving for vacation) has a way of making priorities clearer. If you own a business; get some urgency. Set deadlines, book projects, and campaigns, block off three-day weekends, and learn how to use your calendar to become strategically unavailable.

Get out of your own way

I used to think growing a business automatically led to a more valuable business. But that’s not how investors see it.

Investors want a healthy business that runs without the owner. And they certainly don’t want a business reliant on the founder’s hard work or street smarts.
The recipe for a scalable, valuable business starts with getting out of your own way, plus systems and a dash of urgency.