Business Succession

3 Ways To Move Towards Becoming The Leader Your Business Needs

This post is part two of the two-part series on becoming a visionary leader in business (post one can be found here).

Nothing in business can be assumed, or taken for granted, and the longer you are in business, the more evident that becomes. According to some statisticians:

“a surprising 42% of businesses fail because there is no market need. Around 29% fail because they ran out of cash, 23% don’t have the right team to help them succeed, and 17% fail because they don’t have a strong enough business model. Roughly 80% of small businesses survive the first year.The Small Business Administration (SBA) states that while nearly 80% of small businesses survive their first year, only 50% have survived five years or longer during the past decade. About one-third of small businesses survive 10 years or longer.”

I work in a position where business owners from all stages of business come to me for projects ranging from formation, to prevention (putting the proper contracts in place, filing trademarks, etc), to reactive (responding to cease and desists, or worse).

Something stands out distinctly: the differentiating factor between the business owners who succeed, year in and year out, oftentimes with more than one business on their resume, and those who fold after a few years: the former recognize that they must do what feels completely unnatural for any business owner, and step back, allowing themselves space to adopt a visionary mindset or perspective. The latter adopt a narrow focus on the day to day tasks, and don’t feel that they have the time to anticipate what’s ahead in the long term.

I’m by no means even close to having it “all figured out”, of course. However, I have had the opportunity to work with very wise entrepreneurs over the years. Here are a few lessons I’ve found to be true that I hope will be helpful to you as well:

1. Your business needs a visionary leader.

Adopt a visionary mindset, and course correct when necessary.

Don’t worry about making mistakes. In fact, the more mistakes you make, the more progress you are making. Just don’t repeat the same mistakes.

– Mike Michalowicz

To adopt a visionary mindset, you must take a look at the whole truth of your business; pragmatically assessing where it’s at, what is lacking, what liabilities pose a threat to your success, and where it is heading. This is much harder than it sounds, and requires the self-discipline to step away from your business. Allowing for space between yourself and your business creates room to develop perspective.

To be a visionary leader in your business, your actions must be guided by integrity.

We can’t define our ending, or be entirely certain what we plan will actually come to pass. We have no control over that aspect of our lives, in general. We can, however, define our course; our modus operandi of business. Even if we don’t have complete control over our business’ life, focusing on integrity as a cornerstone of our actions eliminates the stress and insecurity of wondering if we’re doing things “right”.

We must have perspective to remain visionaries in business, yet, it’s impossible (and illogical) to assume we can map out perfect plans for our lives and businesses 5, 10, 50 years down the road. The unexpected happens. However, one thing that remains steadfast through the seasons of life is among other things (mental toughness), our inner compass. Our “why”. Our integrity.

One thing to note: the more advanced your business becomes, the more honest you need to be about your ability to be the “visionary” in business. Some of the greatest success stories I’ve seen have occurred when a business owner recognizes that, and brings on a partner who’s strengths align with their weaknesses. In fact, the author one of the top entrepreneurial books out there (Traction, by Gino Wickman) has gone so far as to say “the fact is that every true Visionary needs to be counter-balanced with a great Integrator if he or she wants his or her vision to be fully realized.” I’d posit the argument that the opposite is also true.

2. Beware the “false profits” in business.

My goodness, they’re out there. Again, from the perspective of how I encounter most business, I encounter these people often. Frankly, much more often than I’d like, particularly in the creative entrepreneur sphere. Typically their opinions, couched as fact, sold as “education”, result in harm and liability to their students, which is where people in my profession enter the stage.

I’ve seen “educators” “educating” on business finances and estate planning, with literally zero credentials. I’m not talking about accolades, I’m talking about actual training and/or legally required licensing. And they are advising people on how to invest their business finances and write the documents that will dictate how their family and/or business is to be handled when they die (that’s actually a generous statement; they typically forget to even think about the latter…because they don’t know what they’re talking about). I’ve seen hugely popular educators who have very flashy marketing, teaching young business owners on how to “build a business”…yet don’t actually have a legal business themselves. Literally, not even an LLC.

It’s terrifying, it’s idiotic, but the law always catches up.

My point: Be discerning. Do not confuse flashy marketing with knowledge. Persuasive messaging does not automatically make someone knowledgable, it just makes them convincing. Which leads me to:

3. Seek Out Wise Counsel

If you are looking for counsel that requires licensing (taxes, finances, law), do not waste your time on someone who is unlicensed. There’s a reason they’re not. Additionally, any serious business owner should perpetually be asking themselves this question: would (name of business) operate this way, such as trying to “wing it” when it comes to the legalities of business, etc? For example, would Steve Jobs have purchased an online course on “how to manage money” (for more money than a financial advisor costs, mind you) than working with a financial advisor when creating Apple?

No, and it sounds dumb because it is.

For general education, it’s fine; when you are actually ready to tackle your taxes, legalities, or finances, it’s arguably negligent.

When looking for business educators, look for someone who doesn’t just talk the talk, but has walked the walk. This may be inflammatory, but I would take this so far as to say, be cautious before working with someone who has had “nothing but success”. First of all, they’re just telling you they’ve been successful. They may not think they’re being untruthful, they may just equate Instagram followers to success, rather than looking at actual profit. That’s not a business.

There are no safeguards in place that forces anyone to prove the voracity of what they tell you in online business.

If someone is willing to talk about errors they have made, and maybe even failures along the way, the integrity behind their education is typically stronger, and therefore, the value of what they have to share is higher. Look for someone who is well-rounded in both their experiences, and what they offer. Did you know that “entrepreneurs are 125% more successful if they’ve worked previous jobs in the industry they’re currently doing business in“?

Therefore, when seeking out education as a discerning business owner, there are specifics that I advise my clients to look for. While there are additional factors that I may take into account on a case-by-case basis that may result in additional recommendations (education is multi-dimensional and ever-evolving, so there is no “one size fits all” solution) there are specific points a program must encompass before I will recommend it to any client:

  1. How comprehensive is the program? Is it/the educator an “expert” in just a one-dimensional sphere?
  2. Does it address the entrepreneurial mindset as much as the logistical aspects?
  3. Does it assist in building a sound business model?
  4. Does it cover aspects such as marketing?
  5. How robust is the information regarding business growth, and/or creative process?
  6. What is the educator’s experience prior to teaching? Do they have any professional experience outside their “sphere” (such as the creative world). For example, do they have experience in selling services or products, or both?

Each of these points are critical, and I am highly reticent to say one is more important than the other, simply because each business is different. However, it is the first point, how comprehensive is the program, which I consider to be of the most import. This is not a question of “how much unlicensed advice” do they provide, mind you, but of the amount of calculated, actual education the program provides.

There has only been one educational investment that has provided each of these aspects, and more, to not just myself, but multiple clients as well. If you are an entrepreneur in the creative world, I would highly advise that you explore whether or not this program is appropriate for you, as a business owner. It will elevate your role as a leader in your business. I have yet to encounter a program, or educator with this amount of integrity before.

I hope that this article is a helpful guidepost to you as you advance your own business. Do you have any questions about this information? Please leave a comment below, or better yet, email me directly at to discuss the topic further!

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