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Why You’ll Never Build a Sustainable Business With Execution Alone

Here are the 3 things you need to thrive.
Why You’ll Never Build a Sustainable Business With Execution Alone

I love discovering vision and building strategy. It amps me up! That is what led me to start my first business, grow it to 8-figures, and sell it to tackle my next opportunity.

All that untapped potential inspires me to create and look for patterns and openings. As an independent thinker with a penchant for contrarian thinking, I love to discover what most businesses fail to see. In the world of services, that’s easy to do!

Yet all that work is for nothing if you don’t take the crucial steps to make it a reality. You know — all that ‘work’ that is necessary to see your vision turned into a strategy and then executing on the tactical plan. I don’t enjoy that last part as much but I’ve come to appreciate it more over the past decade.

What’s more, when you don’t know why you’re doing something or taking on customers without a goal, you end up running in circles. Sure you can grow that way, but it’s due to brute force and that’s not sustainable.

You need vision to build a great strategy and you need great execution to get where you want to go. Ignoring any of the three will lead you astray. No one sets out to be mediocre or fail completely.

What is vision and how does it differ from strategy?

I didn’t know there was a difference between vision and strategy when I started my first business. Those terms are often used interchangeably but that’s a mistake. They serve two very different purposes. One without the other leads to mediocrity.

Vision is your ‘WHY’

The reason you get out of bed in the morning to head to the office. The reason you started your business. Many of us never truly stop to think about what drives us. Sure, we have some go-to one-liners, but they don’t typically get to that deep-seated, driving force within you.

Your vision will transform the business. It’s critical to employees and customers alike — especially with the current generation entering the workforce. Gen Z wants more than a paycheck. They want purpose and an aspirational reason to join.

Younger workers are searching for impact-driven companies who vocally champion a better world and take practical steps to effect positive change.

On the flip side, your customers are hiring the next generation as well and those employees will look at your business through that same purpose-driven lens. Vision is critical to building a stellar company and you need to shout it from the rooftop — incorporating it into everything you do.

Here are some questions to chew on:

  • What does success look like (ignoring financial metrics)?
  • If you were financially independent, what business would you start?
  • What do you dislike about your current industry? What would you do differently?

Strategy is your ‘WHERE’

Where is your business going? Where are your goals taking you? Where is your service needed? This translates to the markets, regions, audiences you target, and the products/services you offer.

It’s a hard one. If I had a nickel for every service firm I’ve stumbled upon that waxes poetic about the 371 industries they serve, with 283 services, and they do it globally with 13 employees (located in the same region), I’d be set for life.

Am I being snarky? Perhaps a bit cruel? Probably. Yet my point is, most service firms don’t have a strategy. Some think they do, but “full service” isn’t a strategy either — it’s a smorgasbord. Customers see this and most yawn before moving on again. They want a reason to pick you over the 8 bazillion others saying the same thing.

Your strategy needs to go deep yet stay narrow. It needs to answer some basic yet critically important questions:

  • What is my business great at?
  • What customers love us the most?
  • Why do they love us?
  • Is there a specific industry/pattern emerging?
  • What customers never seem to be happy with us?
  • What is different about them?
  • Plus a million more like this… all striving to help you find your niche

I chose the word ‘niche’ on purpose. You have finite resources so you can’t boil the ocean by pulling in any customer for anything they ask for… or you’re doomed to be mediocre and unsatisfied. Sure, you may make respectable money, but that isn’t enough to entice you into the office after the initial euphoria wears off. I’ve lived it.

Execution is your ‘HOW’

It’s the ‘work’ that everyone in your business does to make your vision and strategy a reality. While you will spend most of your time here, if you didn’t have a vision and strategy, you’d be running in circles.

The cold, hard truth is, most service businesses are running in circles. They simply just don’t know it. I tend to go back to a quote from The E-Myth Revisited for this (and so many other situations as well).

“Most entrepreneurs are merely technicians suffering from an entrepreneurial seizure. Most fail because they work IN the business rather than ON the business.”

— Michael Gruber, The E-Myth Revisited

With an understanding that vision begets strategy which begets execution, you have the knowledge necessary to iron out all three pillars.

Here’s a bit of my journey to add further context…

Before I made the leap to leadership, I was an engineer. While many of you would immediately think of my role as tactical — mired in execution details — that was only part of it. My favorite part always started with the challenge at hand. How could I pull it apart, flip it around, toss or add pieces, and put it back together — with the end goal being a solution that delivered on its promise?

What came next was the hard work of making that vision a reality. I thrived there — being quick to produce results — often many times more effective than my peers. My ‘why’ was the love of solving problems and creating novel and clever solutions.

For years I also loved this part but once I discovered the joy of business ownership, I wanted more reach. As a technical person, I was at the end of the funnel — limited in my influence. As an owner, the future was whatever I wanted it to be.

My vision (‘why’) had evolved. I still love creative problem solving, looking for angles others have missed or ruled out, yet my purpose is larger now. I want to show that win-win scenarios can always be discovered in business. I hate the zero-sum mentality.

As for my strategy (‘where’), I’m focused on service-based business owners fed up with the status quo. Said another way, owners that are unsatisfied with the typical pricing and engagement model used by nearly every service business. It’s a large and diverse market spread across the globe yet all have the same fundamental issues — revenue is tied to headcount.

Finally, my current execution (‘how’) plan is to build my personal brand by showing up consistently long-term so my words take on more credibility:

  • Growing an audience by sharing insights and experiences from my own (mis)adventures in growing businesses
  • Building my influence across social media using those same insights and experiences while engaging with other influencers and people most relevant to my target audience
  • Tailoring my content on the social media platforms above so it aligns with how those platforms have evolved — bite-sized for Twitter, stories for Medium, and a mix of both for LinkedIn (posts vs articles)

By the way, it’s working. My proof? You. You see the value I’m offering and did so before my influence was significant. This is what keeps me going when the pace of “progress” feels horrifically slow.

This article originally appeared in Entrepreneur's Handbook on Medium.

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