No Man’s Land
No Man's Land is that stage of the entrepreneurial journey where your business is too big to be small and too small to be big, here's how you escape...
Hey everyone, it’s Jean, founder of The Freedom Experience. Here to help you build a healthy, valuable business.
Today I want to talk to you about No Man’s Land. Have you ever felt that no matter what you do, your business growth has stalled? It feels like employee morale is low, and your staff aren’t embracing new ideas. Perhaps you feel confused about your core-value proposition; you’ve come out of alignment with your customer needs. You feel the business is stagnating, and you are frustrated.
Many business owners find themselves stuck here. Doug Tatum gave this place a name; he called it No Man’s Land. It’s that stage of your entrepreneurial journey where your business is too big to be small and too small to be big — you’re an adolescent, suffering from an identity crisis.
No matter how good your core business idea, you are pushed by growth to the point where the resources and approach that got you to where you are, won’t carry you any further. In fact, they may even become an obstacle to growth!
Here are some of the symptoms to help you figure out if you’re stuck in No Man’s Land.
- Alignment – you are struggling to follow important changes in your customers’ needs. And you are physically or financially constrained from making the changes you need to make to meet them.
- Scalability – as demand has increased, your infrastructure has buckled. Your company is unable to keep pace with your growth.
- Management – you have failed to address the weaknesses of close friends and confidants who make up your management team.
Let me give you an example. I work with a company that develops security products. For 15 years they were considered a high-growth company. And then something changed. Companies began shifting their infrastructure to the cloud. And with that, their security needs changed. My client found himself in No Man’s Land. The company’s core value proposition no longer aligned with its customers’ needs. They became physically constrained by their technical resources. And that the people who got them to where they were, weren’t capable of traversing No Man’s Land.
Which brings us to finding your way out of No Man’s Land; you need to become radically objective about your situation and have clarity on the options available to you. Aside from going out of business, you have a couple of options. You could scale back the business and stay small, or you could opt to traverse No Man’s Land.
Assuming you decide to cross No Man’s Land. Doug Tatum offers five navigational principles to help you out of No Man’s Land and to help you manage a rapidly growing company.
As you grow, you attract customers based on your unique talents and understanding of the market. However, there comes a time when you physically can no longer deliver on a personal basis. You can no longer keep up with your customer needs.
What happens is that you get market misalignment and things start to break down: sales stagnate, customer complaints rise, product development is a hot mess, and you have sleepless nights.
You need to realign your business with your customer needs so that your product offerings remain relevant and you continue to deliver on your core value proposition. And, and this is the big one, you must make sure that your company becomes good at what you were initially good at doing.
The people who got you here won’t get you to the next level. It’s not what you want to here. I know, a lot of these people are your friends. You’ve made promises to them. It’s not their fault, but the reality is you need an experienced team to help you through No Man’s Land.
To get back into growth mode, you need a clear vision of where you are going. You need alignment with your customer needs. And you need to inject a healthy dose of management experience.
This M is a bitter pill to swallow. You need to let go of good people, and you need to start delegating and handing over control. But do it you must, or die you will.
A word of caution here. I’ve seen many owners choose the wrong people or cling to control. So the trick here is to figure out what your strengths are and protect them when delegating control. Here’s an example: Steve Jobs understood his superpowers; he was a visionary hell-bent on changing the status quo. He knew he wasn’t an operational guy. So he hired Tim Cook to solve Apple’s supply chain challenges. And between them, they operationalized Job’s core value proposition.
Outgrowing your model
In the start-up stage, your model is ‘hustle and hack’. Or as Doug puts it “high-performance, cheap labour”. What that means is you’re burning the candle at both ends. You have a small team of dedicated employees doing the same. And between you, delivering a superior product or service at below-market cost.
You have a couple of options here: go back to a size where your model works. Or grow your way out. But to grow your way out, you need to understand how your current model needs to change so that you can move from hustle and hack into scale.
Outgrowing your money
The challenge most of us have is that we enter No Man’s Land without enough cash to traverse it.
When my document management business kicked into high-growth, capital quickly became a scarce resource. We needed more stock, more racking, better fire protection, hell we needed a whole new state of the art warehouse. But we were seen as too risky to raise money. To make matters worse, we were at the height of the 2008 financial crisis.
To survive No Man’s Land, you need to be clear on your capital requirements, and we weren’t going in. We had no idea of the kind of investment it took to build a records storage centre.
There is no magic bullet for money. You need to get creative. We partnered with an FMCG business and took over some of their warehouse space. We pushed payment terms with suppliers and incentivized early payment with our customers. And we financed whatever we could.
So, if you choose to navigate through No Man’s Land, make sure you understand your capital requirements — hire a part-time CFO. Do your best to derisk your business by putting an experienced management team in place and get creative.
When you enter No Man’s Land, you lose momentum. Imagine walking into a desert short on water. In the blazing heat, every step becomes a chore. Frustration, struggle. It’s really hard to keep moving.
You need to create positive energy and keep the momentum to escape. Now think of your company as locomotive speeding across the desert. Momentum can transform your company, giving a stark choice: get on board, or get out of the way.
To create momentum, you have a few levers:
- Optimism – you need to have a clear vision and demonstrate the commitment to realizing that vision. You need to demonstrate self-sacrifice and infect others with your enthusiasm, and in that way, generate positive energy.
- You need to clarify your decision-making process. How are decisions made? Who makes the tough calls? And according to what values? Give your team the guidelines they need to pursue your overarching goals.
- Ignite your culture – Shake things up in your inner circle, bring some new life into your leadership team. Remind people how much the company cares about them, applaud actions that demonstrate your core values. Mess the business up if you must, just make sure to clean up.
Don’t Struggle Alone
I’m serious about helping you. My coaching is about helping you get clear on where you want to take your business and finding the momentum to get you there.
If you feel your business is caught in No Man’s Land, join my upcoming Freedom Experience coaching program. A 12-week interactive, sleeves-rolled-up series, dedicated to helping you find the momentum you need to discover the freedom you deserve.
Want more strategies and tactics for growing a valuable business? Check out:
- Are You Caught in The Owner’s Trap?
- The Big Thing Holding Back Small Businesses
- 6 Ways You Can Make Your Business More Durable Now (and Sellable in the Future)
- How to build a valuable business you can sell at a premium
- The 6 types of business exit (and which is right for you)
And if you want a hand escaping No Man's Land, then find out how you can work with me today.
Don't miss a beat!
Get the only emails anybody wants on creating a business that thrives without you, delivered to your inbox.
We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.