To unlock your business’ potential, answer this one question

We Americans are obsessed with growth. If you find yourself constantly thinking about growing your business don’t worry.  It’s not your fault.  It’s an epidemic.

Before I continue, let me be clear.  This post is not a rant against business growth.

Growing a business can be fun and exciting.  I’ve been growing my restaurant business for 10+ years and I like it.

But this wasn’t always the case. For many years, I felt like I had to grow.

  • You’ve got a golden ticket!
  • Don’t you want to be rich?
  • Bro, this is America.  Of course you have to grow.

I spent all of my time strategizing growth but hardly any time questioning it.  This went on until one day I realized I was miserable.

I was miserable because I completely forgot that growing a business is a choice.  I  thought growth was something ambitious people automatically do.  Like walking.  Or breathing.   So, I became a slave to chasing growth and growing for growth’s sake.  At first, this was ok (Hey, making money is nice) but pretty quickly it wasn’t working for me.  Why? Because growing a business is hard.  And when things are hard and there isn’t a good answer for why you’re doing what you’re doing, life sucks even more.

Today I’m no longer miserable.  I’m still focused on growing my business but it doesn’t consume me.

A deceptively simple exercise has made all the difference.  I call it “Ruthlessly Asking Why?”

Here’s how it works.

Before I take on a new business project, I take a step back and spend the necessary time (sometimes a few hours or sometimes a few days) asking myself a bunch of tough questions.   For this exercise to work the questions have to be hard.  And your answers have to be brutally honest.  This way you don’t risk buying into your own crap.

This is the “Ruthless” part of the exercise.

Questions include:

  • Why will customers want to support this business?
  • Why will anyone want to work in this business?
  • Will I have to disrupt my quality of life to pursue this project and if so why is it worth it?

I’ll also ask some “what” and “how” questions too (i.e., What is my downside? How will this business be different from competitors), but ultimately all of the questions have to funnel to the big Kahuna question:

Why should I do this?

My goal is to have enough compelling answers to form a good story.  Not some bullshit story, but one that I can believe in.  And that other people can believe in too.  If you want to grow your business you will need help.  A good story that gets people engaged and on your team makes the journey a little easier and a lot more rewarding.

If I go through this exercise and come out the other end with a genuine, “yes, let’s do this!” then game on!  If not, it’s a sign I should take a pass.

So if you’re contemplating growing your business or starting a new one my advice is simple.  Get good at asking “why?” and then come up with a good story.   Do this and you’ll be off to a better start than you know.