No matter how passionate you are about your small business, there will inevitably be times when you feel drained and discouraged, perhaps even to the point of quitting. Still, before you act on these negative emotions, it’s important to assess whether it’s really time to move on or if you’re simply stuck in a rut. Gene Marks and Elizabeth Larkin discuss how small business owners can get to the core of their frustrations and find ways to take their business to the next level.

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Executive Summary

1:01—Today’s Topic: How Do I Take My Business to the Next Level When I’m Worn Down?

3:36—If you are truly unhappy with your small business, it might be time to close up shop and move on. Fortunately, because of the current economic climate, now is an ideal time to sell your business.

5:04—Another way to get your business out of a rut is to branch out and explore new territory; consider buying another industry-related business so you can expand the one you currently own.

6:15— Sometimes, you just need to change your state and step away from your business for a little bit. Taking time off allows you to reassess your current situation from a new perspective.

9:37—Make sure you’re not taking your accomplishments for granted; look beyond your current situation and be grateful for everything your business has achieved.

10:41—Gene cites healthcare, online retail, technology, and maintenance as the four most popular industries for start-ups in 2018.



Elizabeth: Gene, I love today’s question because I feel like it’s probably very relatable to a lot of small business owners. When I read it I thought, I’m kind of sad for these people, but honestly I think you’re going to give them a really good pep talk.

Gene: I’m looking forward to it.

Elizabeth: All right. So after we hear from our sponsor we’re going to get into our first question, from Sydria from Tucson, Arizona.

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QUESTION: How can we take our business to the next level?

So Sydria’s question, and she owns a swimming pool service company, is, “It has been 17 years and we are tired. How can we take this business to the next step? We are hitting $425,000 a year and have not been able to hit $525,000” … I think she means profits, correct?

Gene: Yeah.

Elizabeth: “… in the last five”.

Gene: I’m assuming.

Elizabeth: “So what now? As we keep going the cash flow seems to get bigger but the income is staying the same”. That’s such an interesting question. Why would that be happening?

Gene: First of all, when I hear that she’s tired, I think … did you ever see Blazing Saddles?

Elizabeth: Yes.

Gene: Madeline Kahn when she’s singing, she’s, “I’m so tired, so tired, everything is kaput”. That’s what I was thinking. I actually get that. When people are saying that … it’s tiring running a business. This person, Sydria, her name is-

Elizabeth: Yeah, because you’re hustling all the time.

Gene: Yeah, it’s 17 years she’s been running this business, and you think to yourself, after running a company for 17 years it wears you down, it’s like a battle. It’s funny … Sydria, I’m only saying this because I hope it makes you … just to sympathize with you. I have one client every year who runs a really profitable business and his most depressing day of the year is January 1st, because he’s like, “I got to start all over again, and I’m exhausted”.

Elizabeth: What kind of business is it?

Gene: Well, it’s a supply business, like an auto parts supplier, and it’s not like he’s got continuous contracts, so he’s just got to … he’s battling-

Elizabeth: He’s hustling.

Gene: He’s hustling, and the guy, he’s in his 40s, and he’s been doing it now for 15 years and he’s just tired. So you’re not alone in feeling that way, and I just think it’s-

Elizabeth: Should we start a Facebook group for tired small business owners?

Gene: What do you do? There’s a few different things. She’s talking about, she’s hitting $400,000 a year in profits and yet it’s leveled out, and she wants to … what does she do at this point? Clearly she’s in a rut, is what you feel like.

Elizabeth: Yeah. We’ve answered questions like this a lot, and I feel like you’ve always given a good pep talk to people.

Gene: What would you do, if that was you? If you were running a business and you were in a rut. What would you do?

Elizabeth: Well, the two things is that she’s in a rut and she’s also plateaued.

Gene: Yeah. Yeah.

Elizabeth: And, I don’t know, is pivoting an option?

Gene: Well, it could be. One thing I have to say is this. Life is short. We’re on this earth for a very brief period of time. If you’re tired and you’re unhappy and you need a change, you might want to seriously consider changing. There’s plenty of ways in this world to make a buck. We spoke on a previous podcast how 2018 was a great year for businesses selling themselves. So Sydria, this might be the time to say, “You know what? I’m just not enthused, I’m not thrilled coming to work every day, I’m tired, I’m whatever, it’s not doing it to me any more.” Sell the business, and move on to something else. I hate it when people get so emotionally involved in their business. People are …

Elizabeth: How can you not though?

Gene: Well, but the most successful entrepreneurs that I meet that run their companies are the ones that treat their businesses like assets. They’re just things. You get emotionally involved with your family and your friends and your pets. That’s something that can give you love. A business doesn’t give you love, it just sucks the energy out of you. So you should be, Sydria, considering … One option you might want to really think is to take advantage of the times that we’re in right now, because it’s not going to stay the same, and say, you know what, this might not be a bad time to just cash up, and go and do something else. That is certainly one thing to consider.

Second thing to consider, Sydria, is the opposite of cashing up. Because it’s such a good time to sell your business, it’s also a great time to buy a business. So maybe within your own business you want to give yourself new challenges. And I’ve thought about that myself in my own business. My business, we sell software, and provide implementation to it, and I’m in a similar situation, I’ve been doing this for 25 years now, we’re like it’s-

Elizabeth: Hey, you’re tired.

Gene: Yeah! And I think to myself, what now? And that’s why last year I launched a whole new platform and a whole new area of my business, just to keep the energy going, keep the creative juices going. Do you know what I mean?

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Gene: So Sydria, you’re running a … you service swimming pools. Maybe a challenge would be to buy a competitor, or to add on to your business and decide to sell some swimming pool products or something related in the industry, by buying another company. So instead of selling your company, because you are generating this extra cash every year, buying something else and then selling that might give you a little kick in the you-know-what, so that you’re suddenly enthused and back into doing work and excited about what you’re doing. So that’s another thing to think about.

The final thing that I can also recommend is just changing your state. If your business is a good business and it’s making you money … I know you’re tired, we’re all tired, everybody’s going to work … believe me, everybody in a job is tired. So be grateful for what you got. You got a business that’s generating its thing. Can you do something to separate yourself from the business a little bit, to do something that’s fun? In other words, can you change your schedule? Can your business still run as well or effectually, or can you hire somebody, bring somebody in, and then maybe you spend more time doing something else that jazzes you up. You volunteer somewhere, you join a theater club. Do something that just takes your mind off your business, or can help you distract while you’re at business and think about other stuff.

I did that when I started writing about … 12 years ago, it was like I was, enough of being yelled at by clients for all the products that I sell that don’t work-

Elizabeth: You still get yelled at by clients though.

Gene: Still, I do, but I handle it better because I can turn that into stories or talk about it here or whatever. So I started writing for that very reason, to change my state, to give me something else to do. So again, maybe just cash out and sell. Maybe you buy another business. Maybe you try out a new product line or a new thing that just gets you jazzed back up again. Or maybe you just keep running the business but bring in a little bit of additional help, and go away somewhere. Instead of spending 12 hours a day at your business, try to spend eight hours a day and take the other four hours and go bike riding.

Elizabeth: That was my thought when she said, “we are tired”. I was thinking … because that’s a physical business to run. Maybe they feel like, we just physically cannot do this any more. Because it’s servicing pools, it’s not like you’re sitting behind a desk or installing software. This is going to sound really flippant, but I’m always thinking, can you take a vacation for a week and just get away from everything and then come back and really assess, is this really what I want to be doing, or is there something, like you were saying, new function to add to the business, new offering that you could focus on.

Gene: It’s funny that you say that. I’ve been working on this book about how people dealt with the recession, and a surprising number of people looked at the downturn in their business and actually almost shut up shop for a month and re-assessed their business and their lives, and then 10 years later they look back on it, it had a big impact on themselves. So your suggestion is really true. Sydria, if you can take a week or two and just get away and go to an island somewhere and walk around on the beach and just think about your life and your business and where you are. I don’t think that’s going to be a long-term refresher for you, because ultimately you’ll get back to the grind, but getting away from your business and putting things in perspective and really thinking about your life and where you’re going, it’s always a great exercise to do.

Elizabeth: And I really don’t mean that as a flippant, just take a vacation, everything will be better. As Gene said, I’m thinking more the … you get a new perspective if you can step back a little bit.

Gene: You do.

Elizabeth: And say, maybe I’ve just been thinking about this the wrong way, maybe I have a cold right now so I’m tired.

Gene: And you’re never going to think that way if you’re at your business. You got to get away and do that. So those are all the different things. But one final takeaway though, Sydria, is that, it seems like you got a pretty nice business going on. I know you’re tired, but be grateful for that. See if you can appreciate that. Don’t blow it. Don’t walk away from it or take it for granted. Because it sounds like you’ve done a pretty good job with it and it just might be just a new attitude that you need to have.

Elizabeth: Okay. We’ll be right back with Gene’s Word of Brilliance.


Elizabeth: And we’re back with Gene’s Word of Brilliance.

Gene: So my Word of Brilliance today is Start-up, Elizabeth. A report that was done at the end of 2018 by a company called LendEDU, and you can add this into the show notes, looked at the most popular industries for start-ups in 2018, if you’re starting up a new business.

Elizabeth: I can’t wait to hear, what are they?

Gene: Well, among the top 10, because I’ve only got five for you, I’ve got some interesting ones, and I’d like to share them with you. One of them … these are the top five. Healthcare. Starting anything up in healthcare, which makes … right?

Elizabeth: Total sense.

Gene: Aging population, lots of opportunities, people trying to reduce their healthcare costs, a lot of thought getting into, how do you better manage healthcare? So that’s number one, okay. Number two I have a bit of an issue with. They’re calling it e-commerce, and they’re calling that a popular industry for start-ups.

Elizabeth: That means so many different things though.

Gene: Yeah, exactly. That’s like just saying … I guess you could say that’s like online retail. But even retail, I hate saying retail because you can break that down into so many different … One takeaway is to say this. Many, many start-ups, obviously, among the top five, according to this report, are starting up e-commerce. They’re selling stuff online.

Elizabeth: Okay.

Gene: Okay. So it’s not like they’re just opening up brick-and-mortar stores. If you’re looking to sell … and I’m assuming if they’re doing that, they’re doing it through Amazon, they’re doing it through Ebay, they’re doing it through Alibaba, they’re doing it through … they’re setting up storefronts to do that way. So that’s another popular one.

Third most popular start-up in 2018, technology companies.

Elizabeth: That’s another super broad …

Gene: It is very broad. I am going to assume, being myself in the technology space, that the most popular area for tech companies has got to be in the area of security. If you are looking to-

Elizabeth: I was thinking app creation.

Gene: No. And actually, app creation, that’s very general!

Elizabeth: I know.

Gene: Security is the hottest tech industry and it is going to be for the foreseeable future. I was reading recently that Google, Apple, Microsoft, they cannot get their hands on enough smart people that have … experienced software engineers with security experience. If you’ve got the brains to be a software engineer and you’re looking to get into the technology industry, find an area of security to focus on and that’s where you want to be.

Gene: So after healthcare, e-commerce, technology companies … maintenance related companies, is one of the most popular-

Elizabeth: I totally get that, because people do not want to do stuff around their houses or their offices.

Gene: Correct. Offices, houses, anything that has to do with repairs, anything that has to do with fixing things up, all that falls under the umbrella of maintenance and that was also a very popular start-up.

Now, just out of curiosity, if you were going to start up a business … let’s just say, right, that you’re out of a job, you’re going to start up your own company. What would be the industry you’d go into?

Elizabeth: Okay, I’m going to answer in two ways. One would be something I’m actually qualified to do, which is, I think-

Gene: Good answer, by the way. Keep going.

Elizabeth: I would probably just start a business doing some type of passive income like writing books and selling them on Amazon or something. Because I do write, so I’d be like, okay, I’m going to do that. But I think, and I think I’ve mentioned this before, pet care is a huge, huge industry right now.

Gene: It is.

Elizabeth: People treat their dogs and cats like their pets. I remember my Dad was telling me, growing up, people just kept their dogs in a dog-house in the backyard, they didn’t come in the house. I think he was born in … late 40s, so he was a kid in the 50s. Now, my dog has two of her own dog beds, and she has sweaters and different leashes and harnesses and collars, and she has a dog walker and she has a dog daycare place. One of my friends is a stay-at-home mom, and she just started walking dogs and watching them overnight, and she’s actually making a good …

Gene: We spend 15 bucks a time every time our dog walker comes to take our dog out, and they do a wonderful job. Dog walking is a big business, a home pet care big business. There is a difference between becoming a veterinarian and being even a technician in the animal care and then making house calls and doing things like checking for fleas or giving shots or whatever. I think that is … a lot of opportunities to be in the … And by the way you would love it, because you love your dog.

Elizabeth: What about you? If you were going to start a new business tomorrow … The other thing I was thinking … Sorry, I’m like, what would you do, Gene, and then I’m like, I’m going to keep talking about myself.

Gene: That’s okay.

Elizabeth: I would also think about doing a subscription based online business, because that’s where it’s at now.

Gene: Right. Right. Well, first of all, when you started your answer, is exactly what anyone listening, if you’re listening to this and you want to start up a business … You said, I would do something that I know, that I’m familiar with. Thank you for saying that, because the most successful business owners I meet, they start up businesses based on their experience. And even I’ve had some kids come to me … One of my son’s friends wanted to start up a business in the area of … actually it was user experience on the internet-

Elizabeth: Oh, cool.

Gene: Like website design and whatever. And the kid had just graduated college, and I was like, “Dude, go and work for a firm that specializes in that for ten years, and then start up your business”. Because you need … you got to get experience. And what you said was 100% right. You know how to write, you’re familiar, you’re good at it, you want to do something around that. Which is why, yeah, I would love to start up the most popular bar in Philadelphia, or be a world renowned chef, but I don’t know how to do it. So you ask me what I was … I would start up something in the technology space, because that’s just all I know, and-

Elizabeth: An app store?

Gene: Yeah, or something to do with security. If I was starting up completely from scratch I would probably be re-selling and implementing security products, is what I would be doing. Because I think that is a huge growth area and I’d just feel comfortable and familiar.

Elizabeth: We actually have an e-book called 99 Small Business Ideas. So if you’re thinking, “I want to start up a new small business”, or, “I want to add on to my existing business”, I will link to that e-book. You do have to download it, and give us your email address, but we won’t spam you, don’t worry. So we’ll link to that in the show notes.

All right. Good question answer, good Word of Brilliance, Gene. Good job.

Gene: We will see you next time.

Elizabeth: And if you would like to submit a question, go to our website, Small Biz Ahead, click on the podcast tab, open up any episode’s show notes, and there is a link in there where you can submit a question that Gene will answer. We’ll talk to you next week.

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