In my view, business success is partly based on the owner’s willingness to do what the business requires in all circumstances. And it is partly based on the personality of the founding owner. I have written on the first part in a post called “The boss’s boss, or unrelenting business demands in mental health practice.” There I outline some of the business demands that must be addressed and the challenge for the owner of overcoming tendencies that interfere with addressing those business needs in a timely way. Here I want to address some of the qualities a business owner needs to possess in order to succeed.
Owners who succeed
In my view, the reason for a failed business is rarely an inadequate vision or mission. Most start with the high hopes of providing an excellent service or product. But then they fall short in their ability to execute on all the steps required. Many of these steps may seem small and insignificant. They are not.
Here is the main challenge for any business owner, one that requires an honest self-evaluation of one’s skills. Are you, as a potential owner, able to stay focused on both the big picture (your vision, mission, values, and branding) and at the same time stay focused on all the details that support the big picture?
Those with the ability to focus on the big picture and the details are far more likely to succeed. Of course, when it is smooth sailing, the business thrives quite easily. But as with life in general, there are no businesses that will not face difficult circumstances at times. And it is during the challenging times that business owners lose their way. Some will compromise on key values that take a toll on their mission and branding. They can end up way off course.
Do you have what it takes?
Before starting to build a business, I would recommend a deep look into yourself. Maybe get some feedback from people who really know you and are willing to be honest with you about your strengths and weaknesses. Ask some hard questions, like these:
- Do I trust myself to do the full spectrum of tasks I need to do in order to be a successful business owner and at the same time an excellent therapist? Can I do both at the same time, stay sane, and have a life outside work?
- How confident am I that I can keep all the tasks going: building referral networks, scheduling, billing, collections, and paperwork, etc.?
- Do I want the responsibility and stress that come with the ups and downs of practice, especially in the beginning?
- If married, how comfortable is my spouse with the uncertainties of income and energy demands?
- How tolerant am I of the financial risks involved in? For example, how comfortable am I with borrowing money to keep everything afloat if things get tight? How comfortable with signing a lease for not only my current needs but also for the space that I may need to grow in the near-term future? Can you work within budget constraints?
- How am I at handling the clinical and business pressures largely by myself?
- Am I able to keep my eye on the big picture while I immerse myself in the details?
Working toward success
Take this list and look at yourself in the mirror and honestly say, “Are there examples in my past where I have done these things well? If not, am I likely to do them when working for myself?” Facing your own limitations gives you the chance to develop a plan to compensate for any deficits you may find. You may find you need to grow into some of these. Others you may eventually be able to delegate. But either way, you need a realistic and honest assessment of how you are going to get the key things done.
When it comes to starting a small business, naiveté about either oneself or the startup challenges is costly financially and emotionally and sometimes is fatal to the business. So pay attention to what the deepest parts of you are saying about the undertaking you are contemplating. And when the time seems right, give it a go. The ride can be wonderful. And success can be very gratifying.
For an overview of many of the dimensions of starting a mental health practice see:
Building a mental health practice
From nothing to something: The early years of my practice and organization
Learning to manage myself: Solving my self-imposed roller coaster