Intentionally Inspirational founder Jason Wright likes talking to people who can give small business owners perspective. Recently, he sat down with Steve Gordon, founder of the Unstoppable CEO, who talks about the pitfalls that many small businesses fall into and how they can get over them. You can watch the full talk here, but the highlights are below.

“This whole entrepreneur thing, this is not something that normal people would ever sign up for,” said Gordon. “You’re going to work four or five or ten times harder than you’ve ever worked before. You’re going to worry more than you ever have and there’s no guarantee that you’re going to get paid.”

Steve Gordon has worked with a lot of small business owners in his history. So much so, that years ago he started Unstoppable CEO to tackle some of the biggest challenges service-based companies face. His experience, through both working in a company and founding his own company, has helped shaped his advice.

Those experiences have also given Gordon a unique outlook on some of the biggest challenges facing small business owners.


Getting Started

As most small business owners know, the odds are stacked against new businesses. The site Fortunly analyzed numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. What it found was:

  • 20% (approx) of small businesses fail within the first year;
  • 33% (approx)  of small businesses fail within two years;
  • 50% (approx) of small businesses fail within five years.

Those aren’t great odds. Gordon says there are a couple of reasons small businesses fail early on.

“I think a lot of people get into it and they get into it not really committed,” said Gordon. “I think that’s a large part of it. If you don’t really understand what you’re coming into, it quickly can become pretty intimidating.”

For the businesses that survive the startup phase, Gordon sees an even bigger challenge blocking their path.


The Survivor Business

“I think the bigger risk is not the failure end of it, I think it’s when you get past that and you become what we call a survivor business,” said Gordon.

According to Gordon, a survivor business is a business that had great growth in the beginning because the owner was all-in. He or she has the time and the motivation to get out there and hustle. They build up a client or customer base and that’s made business good.

But soon, that time starts to run out and the business plateaus. According to Gordon, that plateau could spell the end of the business.

“At that point, either the entrepreneur invests in systems and people to free up time and to drive further growth and then they keep going. Or, what I think happens much more often, is they don’t make those investments, they don’t invest in the mindset shift that is required to get there so they just stay on this plateau. They might stay there forever. It’s almost like you’re in this deadly limbo,” said Gordon.


Avoiding the Deadly Limbo

This is often where Gordon is asked to step in and he has some advice for businesses that are stuck.


Step 1 — Getting Freedom

The first is getting freedom. Not freedom from your business, but freedom from the worries that often plague small business owners. You need to engineer demand.

As Gordon says, when you engineer demand it ripples into the rest of your business. It creates cash and cash solves all problems. It stops you from waking up in the middle of the night, wondering where your next client is coming from.

“If you solve the demand problem first, everything else can flow from that,” said Gordon.


Step 2 — Free Your Own Time

Once you’ve created that demand, it’s time to look at freeing up your own time.

“A lot of times, I’ll see business owners get themselves into a position where the business centers around them so tightly, they got their hands in everything. No one can do it as well as they can,” said Gordon.

Gordon admits that everyone falls into this from time to time, but most successful small business owners find a way to focus on what they WANT to do within their business, not what they HAVE to do.

He suggests that small business owners do a quarterly review. They should break business tasks into three categories. The things they like to do; the things they’re neutral about; and the things they loathed doing. Then, he says take the worst ones and figure out how to transfer that work onto your employees.

“Little by little, a quarter at a time, you get closer and closer to really having the freedom to work on the things that you want to work on,” said Gordon. “If you go through that exercise, you’ll notice that the growth of the business actually starts to really accelerate because you’re freed up to do the things that actually are adding value.”


Marketing to Create Demand

After receiving this advice, many business owners ask the obvious question, “How do I create demand?”.

From the perspective of the Unstoppable CEO, it doesn’t matter what you do you just need to do it.

“We see a lot of business owners that just like to dabble [in marketing],” said Gordon. “One of the things that I believe with marketing is all marketing works… Where it works is generally where someone has focused on that strategy and they’ve taken the time to really understand it master it.”


Generating Referrals

As for the ultimate form of marketing, the referral, Gordon says that’s a tough sell, but there is a way to do it.

“If you look at fundamentally why most businesses don’t get a ton of referrals. The process is such that it’s all stacked in your favor. There’s no advantage to the client. You’ve got to remove all the risk to them,” said Gordon.

So how do you do it? You orchestrate the process so that you’re offering a gift like a free book or a webinar.

“You’ve taken it from being a really risky thing where now I’m asking you to send people that you know about and care about into a sales meeting with me, which they don’t want to go to. We’ve flipped that around and now you’re giving them a gift of this book,” said Gordon. For more from Gordon and the Unstoppable CEO, check out his blog here


Written by Erika Towne