The Big Thing Holding Back Small Businesses

value building Mar 08, 2020

Small businesses stay small either by choice or because they start chasing growth in the wrong places...

"I'm at this ceiling-of-complexity of my own making," said Martin.


His proclamation could not have been any closer to the truth.

One of the reasons small businesses fail to grow is that owners construct a ceiling-of-complexity. And then spend countless hours banging their heads against it expecting the business to grow—I know, I've been there.

However, when you strip away the layers of complexity, it all comes down to a game of darts...

Imagine a dartboard with a bull’s eye and around it is a series of wider and wider circles. The bull’s eye is where you need to focus your attention. The bull's eye represents your purpose, the reason your business exists. It also represents the people (or businesses) who feel the problem your company set out to solve. Your target market. And, it represents the things you absolutely must do to succeed—to grow your business.

Now, the further you drift outside of your bull’s eye, the less likely you are to succeed.

Why do entrepreneurs go outside their bull’s eye?

Let's start with the pain your business set out to solve...

When you’re a self-funded start-up, you’re scrambling—just trying to bootstrap your way to a viable business. You don’t have a lot of money to invest in sales and marketing, so you rely on word-of-mouth and referrals, which also means you’re often talking to people outside of your bull’s eye.

These prospects may experience something like the problem you’re trying to solve, but they are slightly outside your bull’s eye. They like your product or service but want a little tweak to it, a slight customization or a different version. You don’t see the harm in making a change and start to adjust your product to accommodate the customers outside your bull’s eye.

Your new (slightly-outside-the-bull’s-eye) customer tells her friends about how great you are, and how willing you are to go the extra mile, and refers a prospect even further outside your bull’s eye who again, asks you for another tweak.

Making these changes to your original product or service to accommodate customers outside your bull’s eye seems innocent enough at the time, but eventually, it undermines your growth.


To grow a business beyond your efforts, you need to hire employees (or build technology) that can do the work. As humans, we are usually lousy at doing something for the first time but can master most things with enough repetition.

Think about teaching your kids to ride a bike. The first few attempts you find yourself clutching the saddle, chasing them down a road, helping them to balance. It’s a new skill, and they've never had to concentrate so hard in their lives. You break it down for them; keep your head up, look to where you want to go, steer the bike, peddle faster... and gradually, they master each step. It can take weeks, but eventually, they get it. As adults, most of us don’t even think about riding a bike—we’ve mastered the skill by repetition.

The same is true for your employees. They need time to truly master the delivery or your product or service. Every time you make a tweak for a new customer outside your bull’s eye, it’s like changing the instructions on riding a bike. It’s disorienting for everyone and leads to substandard products and services, which customers receive and are less than enthusiastic about.

Having unhappy customers means you have to step in and “fix” the problem. So, sure, you can create a customized product or service for every new, outside-the-bull’s-eye customer, but you are creating complexity and making your company reliant on you. And a business reliant on its founder will stall out at a handful of employees when you run out of hours in the day.

The secret to avoiding this plateau, and continuing to grow, is to be brutally disciplined in only serving customers in your bull’s eye for much longer than it feels natural. When you want to grow, the temptation is to take whatever revenue you can, but the kind of growth that comes from serving customers outside your bull’s eye can be a dead end.

Martin's proclamation on complexity goes beyond ideal customers. If you find yourself distracted by projects outside of your bull's eye or procrastinating over which technologies to deploy or losing sight of the tasks you absolutely must get done to succeed, you are drifting outside the bull's eye. 

Want more insights on how to take your business to the next level? Check out:

And tune in to the The Freedom Experience podcast each week for expert interviews, mini execution plans, and behind-the-scenes secrets on growing a valuable business.


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