As a small business marketing consultant and an executive coach, I sit down with a lot of different people and businesses. It is fascinating for me to listen to others tell me about all their hopes and dreams along with stories of how they have spent their whole life working towards their goals. It is an inspiration to hear of overcome struggles and captured opportunities.
However, over the course of my career helping small business owners grow and succeed, I have also heard a lot of excuses and sob stories. Most people that come to me already need help. My job has become more and more about helping business owners work through obstacles before even beginning to talk about growing their company.
It seems like anymore, every first consultation I have with a new client ends up being the same story. I ask the client to tell me where their business is and where they want their business to be. The new client then proceeds to run through a half-hour list of excuses as to why their business can’t get to where they want it…or even back to where it used to be. I futilely try to interject some ideas, which are quickly shot down, and the conversation continues down the road of “can’t do that,” “won’t work,” and “tried that.” Eventually, the flurry of excuses calms down as the client begins to conclude that the best thing for them to do is nothing until the economy turns back around. I don’t really get their attention until I finally tell them that I think they are correct. They have told me everything that they are not, won’t or can’t do to improve their business but they have not mentioned anything to me about what makes their business great, different, or worthy of future success. The mentality is that all the good ideas have been tried, used up, and fallen short, so what is the point of even trying anymore?
I am in the business of helping others succeed, but the majority of the clients that come to me see me as a last hope. Really, this is code for “I just need one more excuse so that I don’t have to blame myself when the business fails.” They attempt to give me an unusable budget, ask to take baby steps or try to tell me that I should render my services for a royalty. Their hope is that I will turn them down and they can move on to their misery in solitude.
I don’t believe in giving up that easily. Baby steps are a good way to learn how to walk and a royalty off the sales I now I can bring them is a better deal for me in the long run. You see, I believe in solutions, not excuses. Unfortunately, people like excuses because it prevents us from having to face the truth. If I tell a business owner that $250 in marketing is not enough, that is just one more excuse. On the other hand, if you have no marketing, you have to start somewhere.
Go big or go home seems to be a popular mantra but it too is just an excuse in disguise. It taunts us saying that we will never make it…there is no use trying. I like to get people thinking about solutions as quickly as possible because that is where progress is made. If that means we start the conversation on a $250 budget, then let’s talk about how to maximize that money; after all, the world is full of stories of people that have done more with less.
We are all prone to making excuses. Not just excusing away our failures but also excusing away our future successes. We get stuck in a mode of defeat and simply start believing that there is no fix. They are all too expensive, too time-consuming, too risky. We cling to the last thread of hope that we have, holding it close to our chest like a security blanket. It is at this point, when we are down to our last hope, that we are most vulnerable to excuses. Instead of cashing in on the hope and building it into a dream, we tell ourselves that we can’t risk another loss.
The trick to overcoming our keenness towards excuses begins by first realizing how deadly they are to our dreams. Every time you make an excuse before trying something new, you are giving up before you even begin. An excuse is a guarantee that you will wake up in the same predicament tomorrow. If you want to start improving your future, you have to start focusing on solutions. They do not have to start out as big solutions. Pick one small thing that you can change and change it. Then tomorrow, pick another small thing, and then another. Before you know it, your small changes have turned into big solutions.
Ultimately, we only have two options in life and in business. We can look for solutions or we can be one more person in the crowd shouting out reasons why failure is imminent and why there is nothing you can do about it. I tell my clients that I never promise that our first solution will cause big changes, but I do give a moneyback guarantee that more excuses will only lead to more disappointment.