Over two years ago, I set a goal to have a 500k revenue month in our business.
At that time, our annual revenue was at the 1-2 million dollar mark, and the highest sales month we had ever had was under 200k. It felt like a stretch, but I knew it was possible and shared the vision with my partner and some of our team.
Everyone seemed fired up. There was a lot of, “We got this! Let’s do it! It’s happening!” I thought it would take a few months, maybe a year to hit our 500k month… but I was very wrong.
We proceeded to fail miserably at hitting this goal every single month for 24 straight months. Over a year in, when the closest we had gotten was only in the 300s, there were still the half hearted rally cries of, “We got this!” and “It’s definitely happening this month,” but I wondered whether anyone actually believed it anymore.
“We’re hitting 500k this month,” had become less a genuine statement of intent and more of an empty tagline, the thing we said out of obligation because no one wanted to look like a quitter.
Most months, it felt like we were banging our heads against a wall. I questioned on multiple occasions whether we would ever pull it off, and I often felt frustrated. I could tell the team was getting frustrated and burnt out, too.
What added to my frustration was the fact that I didn’t feel like it should have been this hard. A 500k month based on what we had already done and our high ticket price point didn’t seem like such a huge leap.
When goals are harder or take longer than you thought they would, it can be difficult to see the value in the journey. However, as I sit here now on the cusp of finally breaking through 500k, I realize these months of failure have been a gift. The things I have learned on this frustrating quest for a 500k month have been some of the most valuable leadership and business lessons of my life. Worth much more, ironically, than 500k.
I’ve distilled the most important lessons that I learned here, in the hopes that it saves you a year or two of frustration on your next big endeavor.
1. Your Vision Alone Isn’t Enough to Get You to the Next Level
Only around 2% of women owned businesses make it to the 7 figure mark. 7 figures in annual revenue is a huge deal and an incredible milestone, but it’s not the end of the road. If you keep pushing past that, you will likely hit another challenge; the dreaded plateau around 2 million.
We had been warned of this in the past by many other business owners in various coaching programs and masterminds, but at the time getting stuck at 2 million sounded like a dream! Champagne problems, right?
Once we passed 7 figures, however, I realized exactly what they were talking about. After getting accustomed to the exhilarating feeling of rapid growth as we soared from 6 figures to 7 and beyond, I was shocked when at the 2.5 million mark, it started to feel like we were wading through quicksand.
But why? What is it around the 2 million mark that puts the brakes on all that exciting momentum for so many?
Some people think it’s the fact that you’ve outgrown all your old business systems and basically have to start over (true) or that your offer isn’t scalable (probably not true), but I think it’s something else. Yes there are a lot of systems, and HR and legal that need to be bulked up to sustain this next level of growth, but the true plateau in my opinion is actually related to your leadership.
More specifically, 2 million in annual revenue (167k-ish/month) is about how far you can get on YOUR vision. After that point, it has to be collaborative. It has to go from being your vision to a shared vision with your whole team. If it’s just you and a small handful of leaders who are driving the vision, you are swimming upstream and the burnout will be real.
Once I got this, I started asking questions about how we could engage our entire company of over 20 people, not just the sales team, in accomplishing this goal. We created space for every team member to visualize the goal and what it would mean for the company and for them personally. We included the team in the strategy, got ideas from every department, and looked for ways everyone could pitch in to help make the dream a reality. Your team can’t just be doing the work to implement your vision; it has to become their vision, too.
2. If What You Are Doing Isn’t Working, Don’t Just Do It Harder
I am a high achiever, and can be incredibly single minded when it comes to big goals. This single mindedness was reinforced by positive results for a time. Up to about 167k in revenue per month (2 million a year), my single mindedness and intense obsession with goals seemed to be yielding results; we were hitting the goals. But after the 2 million mark, I was spending increasing amounts of energy stressing and pushing but getting worse and worse results.
There are problems with pushing and driving even before you hit that plateau. It burns you and your team out, and can lead to a lot of frustration. I would go so far as to call it lazy leadership. When it’s generating results though, it can be tough to stop and change. Many of us aren’t intending to be ineffective leaders, but we have never learned another way to lead and are afraid we won’t get results without pushing and driving.
I am not proud to admit it, but for a while, despite the lack of movement in our sales numbers, I just doubled down on what we were already doing. I pushed harder, set goals higher, and tried everything I could to “make it happen.” Two years of pushing, and we hadn’t really budged. We were growing, but weren’t anywhere close to being on pace with the goals we had set. In fact, as the team seemed to increasingly lose hope, it felt like we were getting further away from our 500k month.
After two years, I finally accepted that the way I was leading was clearly not working. I read lots of leadership books and got honest with myself about the effectiveness of what I was doing. Then I totally changed my approach. I stopped pushing and instead started asking more questions. I created spaces for collaboration and other people’s ideas. Instead of handling the strategy myself, I started talking to more team members about how they could be more strategic and make space for other peoples’ ideas. I realized very quickly that our team had incredible ideas and ability, but only when I stopped pushing and started listening was I able to benefit from them.
I still have a long way to go on my journey to become a better leader. I have not “arrived” and still see gaps daily in my leadership that I need to work on. However, just the realization and acceptance that my leadership was ineffective was a huge first step, and unlocked so much potential in myself and my team.
If you have a problem in your company, it can be tempting to look for answers in the tactics or the systems. But those problems that persist no matter what strategies and tactics you try are likely a result of your own ineffective leadership. Accepting that is 90% of the battle.
3. You Can Hit Your Biggest Goals Through Multiplication, Not Addition
Throwing resources at a problem you are stuck on can be very appealing. The longer we failed to hit our goal of 500k, the more money we started pouring into coaches, programs, sales trainers and new team members.
What we didn’t realize was that the growth we were after would have to come through multiplication, not addition. Adding more team members rather than looking at how to get the best work out of the ones we had just made things more chaotic and bloated our payroll, putting even more pressure on revenue targets. The more pressure the sales team was under to support our heavy expenses, the worse performance got.
If you are getting 50% out of your people, then your best bet is to use multiplication (how can I get 100% out of them) rather than addition (I’ll just hire more). Of course, there is nothing wrong with hiring and we are often adding more people to our team, but addition should never take the place of multiplication.
Getting more out of your people doesn’t mean burning them out or making them work longer hours. Getting the most out of your biggest resources (people) is often a matter of creating ways for them to use their full creativity and intelligence to make the company better.
In her brilliant book, “Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter,” Liz Wiseman shares that on average, multiplier leaders get two times more out of their people than non multiplier leaders (diminishers). By improving your leadership, you can double what you are producing now without spending more. What would that make possible for your team and your business?
4. Don’t Forget The Real Magic Behind Your Big Goals
I love setting and going for big goals. Love might not even be a strong enough word; I am obsessed. The most exciting moment for me isn’t when we hit the goal, though.
The real magic of setting a big goal is the way it forces me to grow. If I had been content to coast along or grow the business slowly, I would not have been forced to reevaluate every part of my leadership. I could have stayed in my comfort zone, doing things the way I had always done them, never going beyond.
Going for a big goal, and failing so miserably for so many months, was exactly the motivation I needed to transform. I have fundamentally changed as a leader and as a person, and the ripples of that will impact those around me for the rest of my life.
So now I want to leave you with the question I wish I had asked myself two years ago: How does your leadership need to change in order to hit your next big goal?