Self Care

How To Fight Off Immediate Gratification As a Business Owner

Just a couple of months ago, I opened up a community for Service Based Businesses that are looking to grow their company to 7 figures. It’s a Q&A group where no question is off-limits: finances, operations, marketing, sales… You name it –we have a channel for it. This week, one of our members –Sam Shepler– asked a very insightful question that you’ll more than likely relate to.

Sam is the Founder of  Testimonial Hero –they film and produce authentic video case studies for software marketers worldwide, with no travel fees (check them out). He told the group that he had taken on a video project that is going to be very profitable. However, he’ll have to very involved in its fulfillment since it has a tight deadline and it’s more custom than usual. His #1 medium-term vision is to remove himself from working IN the business, but he didn’t want to say no to the client, and the money was still very attractive.

Other than willpower and having your vision top-of-mind, he asked me if I had any mental models to stop yourself from doing things that are short-term gains, but ultimately don’t fit in or distract you from your future goals.

It’s a dilemma that many other business owners, CEOs, and Entrepreneurs (including myself) face on a constant basis. To answer this question, I believe it all starts with having vertical coherence.

Achieving Vertical Coherence.

I definitely think Sam is right when he mentioned willpower and keeping your future objectives top-of-mind. But, if it was that easy, we would all be extremely disciplined. We would all go to the gym, eat healthily, and accomplish all of our New Year propositions. But it’s harder than that. We need a mental model or framework that guides us and pushes us forward when doubts start creeping in.

The best way I’ve found to get there is by answering a very simple set of questions. For example, whenever there’s something that could be done, I like to ask myself this: “Does this get me closer to where I want to be?” Obviously, you first need to know where it is you’re trying to get to. In this case, Sam wants to become the Architect of the company. And he knows that doing project work will slow this transition.

To prevent falling for these traps, I try to have very clear yearly, quarterly, monthly, and weekly business objectives. They all trickle down from each other –what Taylor Pearson calls Vertical Coherence. The idea is that all of your goals have to stack up and align with your values, big vision, etc. The weekly objectives add up to the monthly ones and so on until we reach the full year.

Consequently, if all your weekly goals are met, you know you’ll reach your mission by the end of the year. That’s not to say you won’t fall short sometimes –shit happens, I get it. But this weekly cadence gives you the opportunity to re-adjust before the next checkpoint. That way you won’t go off road for weeks at a time, and you constantly make sure your actions add up to your vision.

Resisting Immediate Satisfaction.

The next question I ask myself is –Why do I want to do it? (or “did it” if it’s too late). There’s often a (sub)conscious story or justification that you want to uncover. And you need to go deep on this.  The “5 Whys” framework is a good way to get to the root cause and find what’s really under the surface.

Sam, for example, said that he didn’t want to say no, and “the money was very attractive.” And who’d blame him, right? But there’s a difference between needing money vs wanting it. You needed the money if you were down to your last dollar or didn’t know if you’d make payroll. In that situation, you just have to do it even if you don’t want to (more on this later).

Or, on the other hand, did he take it because he just wanted to increase his bottom-line? That’s a completely different issue. In hindsight, I’ve been down the same road as him, and it slowed my progress towards my long-term goals.

Yes, some extra cash to fund things sounds great. But too much distraction will just take you away from the path you want to walk. You’ll quickly find yourself spending too much energy in projects that don’t align with your vision. If you can afford it, turn down the money (I know it sucks), and focus. Again, easier said than done –I’ve definitely struggled with this over the years.

“Ideal” Clients Go First.

Let’s say you took the non-ideal project client just like Sam did. If they were not ideal because he still has to be involved in the fulfillment process, it’s not that big of a deal. All it means is he hasn’t set up the systems that will run without him. Moving from IN to On the business takes time, and you will have to do the work sometimes. Just keep working on the business, and you’ll eventually fire yourself.

But if you wouldn’t take them as a client even later, when you’re closer to your ideal state, that’s a bigger problem. What this then tell me is that you took on a non-ideal client because you don’t have enough income from current ideal customers. It’s a sales/marketing engine problem –or you’d just would’ve said no to them. Keep in mind that any minute spent on a non-ideal customer is a minute you’re not spending on finding someone ideal.

If you’ve already taken in the work, that’s okay. Just acknowledge it for what it is –even pretend they’re not a customer and exclude them from your “real revenue.” That way you don’t think you’re doing great and forget where that money is really coming from. But, if you want to build the business you say you do, don’t keep doing this. It’s a slippery slope –and a dangerous one. Also, make a strict rule that you will only do this under XYZ conditions (to make payroll, for example).

And finally, use it as a kick in the butt to work on getting your ideal customers in your sales/marketing pipeline so you don’t have to take on clients like this in the future. That said, it’s not an all-or-nothing equation. It will take time to only work with ideal customers and, even then, it still may not ALWAYS be perfect. Start slow. If right now you take 50% non-ideal and 50% ideal, then next quarter shoot for 60-40, and grow from here.

How To Fight Off Immediate Gratification Takeaway:

  • Really examine and ask yourself if taking this action will help you get to where you want to be. If the answer is no, don’t do it.
  • Have very clear yearly, quarterly, monthly, weekly goals that trickle down from your long-term vision. That vertical coherence will give you the answer to whether something aligns with what you want to achieve or not.
  • Gradually stop signing high-paying but not-ideal clients. Your time is limited, and the more energy you spend with them, the less you will have to look for your dream clients.

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