Specialties: Strategic and Tactical growth for Membership Organizations, Business Management & Development


People are frustrated these days. I’ve had more than the usual number of people ask me what it takes to be successful in business and how you increase your odds to be successful. I get it: We’ve been living in an unpredictable world, and a lot of owners and managers—especially in the small business world—feel like they’re behind the eight ball.

The thing is, my answer—developed over 20 years of research and experience—doesn’t change regardless of what’s going on in the world. Whether you’re in an economic boom, a recession or a time of uncertainty, there are three keys to building a business that grows and thrives for years to come.

signs with a lightbulb and the words keys and success written on them

Key #1: Know Your Stage

Like many people, when I first owned my own business I thought there were two stages of business: broke and really broke. In fact, every small business goes through nine stages of business, from concept to succession. Progressing through these stages is like climbing a mountain with three major peaks:

  • The first scramble is steep because it’s focused on bringing in business. When you get to the top of that peak, you’re generating cash and paying bills. The challenge is that you’re bringing in so much business, you have a hard time getting all the work done.
  • The hike to the second peak is dedicated to building a team to bridge that productivity gap. At this peak, your business is booming and you have more time to spend on what’s important in life. The challenge is that you’re too hands-on still, and you worry about the business when you’re away.

So far in your ascent, your business has owned you: You’ve been an essential part of its day-to-day operation. Now it’s time for you to own your business, which means it running by itself instead of depending on you to run it. What’s great is that you’ve already put in place everything you need to do that; now it’s time for that strong team and effective processes you’ve been developing to shine.

  • The jog up to the third peak is about letting go. Your time and energy are spent fine-tuning your processes and developing your trusted #2 who will be the best next leader for your business. When you get to the top this time, you’re free to do what you love in the business and in your life.

the nine stages of business ownership

For an in-depth look at each of the nine stages, check out my blog Beyond Broke and Really Broke: The 9 Stages of Business “Ownership” or download my free eBook at www.theninestages.com.

Once you understand the nine stages that your business will go through, what do you do with that information? Let me give you a personal example. When I was introduced to the nine stages, I owned two businesses. One was a successful franchise business that could run without me; the other was a consulting business that needed my constant attention. One was a business; one was still a job. Identifying what stage that younger consulting business was in enabled me to understand what kind of tasks I needed to focus on to take it to the next level. It helped me identify challenges that typically arise in that stage so I could prepare and head them off. It gave me hope, even on those toughest days: However rough one stage might be, there was something better coming. I could develop this newer venture into a mature business that would run itself.

Let me ask you: If you stopped working today, how long would your business run itself? The answers I get range from, “Two days? Maybe?” to “Two minutes, if I’m lucky,” to an uncomfortable laugh that means “Not a single second.” If that’s where you are, your business is running you. To truly succeed in business, you have to get to the point where you are running your business. The nine stages is your roadmap to getting there. Please reach out to me if you’d like to talk about what stage of business you’re in and what it means for you and your company.

Key #2: Know What Drives You

Owning a business isn’t about making money Let me say that again: Owning a business isn’t about making money. There are a lot of easier ways to bring in some dough. I don’t use the analogy of climbing a mountain lightly; there are a lot of up and downs in running a business.

Of course, you need your business to make money, but the bottom line isn’t why you get out of bed every day. It’s not why you got into business. If you want your business to be a success, you need to get to the heart of why you own your business and where you want that business to take you in the future.

That’s because your Why and your Where are what ultimately drives you to success. There are actually five principle drivers, but your Why and your Where are the core of that power.

what's your why?

The Why is your purpose and passion for your profession. We all have those days when the alarm goes off and we don’t want to get up. Or worse, those days when everything is going sideways and we think about walking off and being done. One of the reasons that we get out of bed anyway or buckle back down and work through our obstacles is because we have a passion for what we do. We know it’s important, not just to ourselves but to the people we serve. What happens, though, is that we can lose sight of our Why in the day-to-day grind; some of us never really grasped it in the first place. But if you want to know how to succeed in business, you’re going to have to dig deep and find that purpose and passion. It’s what will keep you going when you hit those inevitable hurdles on your journey. There are a few simple questions you can ask yourself to uncover your Why. (A caveat: They’re simple questions, but they might not lead to simple answers! Purpose and passion can be complex.) Here are three to get you started:

  • How did you get into your business? What’s your story?
  • What difference do you want to make for your customers?
  • What problem do you solve for people?

Pro Tip: Don’t think about what you do; think about how it impacts people. For instance, if you specialize in crawlspace mitigation, your Why isn’t We deliver air quality by eliminating mold in your crawlspace. That’s the service you provide. Your Why is We fix hidden dangers in your home before they hurt your family. That’s the kind of purpose that will get you out of bed.

Closely related to your Why is your Where. Your Where can also be called your Life Goals. That’s where you want to be beyond your business, your dreams and aspirations for your life. This is the other reason to get out of bed every morning: the knowledge that your business can provide you with the money, time and energy to live the life of your dreams.

A lot of people find figuring out their Where harder than their Why. When I ask my clients, “What do you want to do for fun?” or “What would you do if you had more time and more money?” they too often answer, “I have no idea, Jim.” Either they’ve forgotten their dreams, they’re too tired to imagine having fun, or they never really dreamed before. Here’s the question I love to ask to get someone thinking about their Where:

  • If you had two to ten million dollars in the bank, and family, life commitments and circumstances weren’t a barrier, what would you be doing for fun?

If that’s not enough to get you going, try these more specific prompts:

  • What hobbies or activities would you like to start doing or do more of?
  • What trips do you want to take?
  • Describe your dream house: location, landscaping and amenities.

Be specific. The answer to What trips do you want to take? shouldn’t by Anywhere! but something like Tuscany in the fall for our 25th anniversary. I like to say that the more specific you can be, the more specific you will achieve.

Your Why and your Where are your inspiration during the desperation. They’re what you need to bring to mind when you hit a wall, so you’re motivated to break through it and propel your business to the next level of success.

the five drivers to building a better business

For more on discovering your Why and Where, check out my blog How to Start Dreaming Again and my online mini-course on the 5 Drivers™ at www.thefivedrivers.com.

Pro Tip: Why and Where are important to your team, too. Do the people who work with you and for you know why you do what you do? If you help them see what you’re passionate about and how the business can change people’s lives, they’re more likely to be passionate in their own positions. Also, you should understand their purpose and passion for their position and what they want out of life. If one of your employees isn’t succeeding in sales, finding out that they have a passion for social media marketing may help you both. If you know that an employee is involved in a charity that’s personally important to them and that they’d like to dedicate more energy to, there might be a way for you and your business to support that.

Key #3: Know What Your Business Needs to Do to Make Your Why and Where Happen

This is the third of the 5 Drivers™: the What. What does your business need to do for you to fulfill your purpose and passion and make your dreams and aspirations come true?

man standing in front of whiteboard

There are three main components to the What:

  • Your Financial What: What revenue do you need to cover your expenses? What revenue do you need to cover your expenses and enable you to grow? What revenue is a game-changer: enough to grow your business, expand your business and live the life of your dreams?
  • Your Organizational What: What does your business look like now and what does it need to look like in the future in order to achieve your revenue goals? What number and type of employees do you need and in what positions?
  • Your Cultural What: What do you want your company environment to feel like? What are the values you want your company and your employees to live?

These are next-level questions. When you first got started in business, you were focused on getting those first sales and making a little money to pay yourself. Your What gets you thinking bigger: how to bring in business on a regular and consistent basis; how to build a team to help you deliver great work, every time; even how to take time away from the business to do those things you’ve always wanted to do.

The point of the What is to develop your business to run—and grow—without you. What holds us back from true success—the satisfaction and fulfillment we get from having a growing, thriving business that gives us the freedom to live our life—is the burden of doubt. We need to be confident that when we step away, the people we’ve put in place have the knowledge, the power and the passion to keep things going. Not just to put out fires, but to prevent fires and to propel the business forward, just like we would if we were there.

Getting there can be intimidating, and it’s definitely a process. A coach or consultant can be a great help here. They can support you in taking action to make sure you achieve your Why, your Where and your What. Learn more about the benefits of coaching and consulting from my article Coaching and Consulting: Your Questions Answered.

You Can Succeed in Business

We all lose heart sometimes. We all get caught up in the “doing” of our business and forget to take time to remember Why we’re here and Where we want to be in life. By capturing the energy of your purpose and passion and keeping your gaze on your dreams, you will find the strength and enthusiasm you need to keep going. By understanding the stage you’re at in your journey and by planning What your business needs to do to get you to the next stage, you guarantee your success.

Success isn’t a unicorn. It is achievable by you, right now. You have the power, and I believe you can do it. Please reach out to me if I can assist as you apply these Three Keys to build a better business and live a better life.



Companies we’ve worked with
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Organizations we’ve worked with
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Franchises we’ve worked with
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Associations we’ve worked with
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