The Road Well Travelled

If you’ve studied any poetry, you are likely familiar with the quote below:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost

The poem is an analogy for life – we can take the route that everyone else has tried, or we can explore new roads, which may be more difficult, but may also be more rewarding.

Last week, I posted the following message on various social sites I belong to:

Thanks to the various people who have expressed their faith that “this too shall pass” and the future is bright, even if I can’t see it now.

There was an immediate response from a variety of people, concerned that this had been triggered by some major event. I had to post a follow-up to that post quickly to indicate that this was not influenced by anything unusual, just life in general.

In life, most people will take the well-traveled road, whether out of fear of the unknown, aversion to risk, or merely a lack of interest in trying something different. However, there is another way to think about the two roads diverging in a wood.

Often we will find ourselves on a road, and see another running beside us. We don’t like the road we’re on, but we can’t jump the guardrail to the other road. We continue on our way, continually looking for a way to get to the other road, and not paying attention to the one we’re already on.

Enough abstractions – here’s part of my story.

I’m running a small advising business, helping small and medium-sized businesses get the technology they need to grow larger, run more smoothly, lower their operating costs. A normal client will walk me through their day-to-day operations, the infrastructure they already have in place, and some ideas for what they want to change. I’ll then draft some suggestions for improvements and change to that infrastructure, and, if the client agrees, assist in implementing those suggestions.

I don’t run with a given client for a long period of time typically. While implementation of a strategy can take 6 to 12 months from start to finish, there’s often not a lot of work that I’m doing personally during that stage. This translates loosely into low profitability during that stage of the project. While during the early stages I’m earning close to 100% of my billings, during the middle and late stages of a project it can be as low as 5%.

The effect of this is that my business requires a large number of clients at various stages. So when you close two accounts in one week, it’s tough.

However, this isn’t unusual by any means. While I can witness other businesses experiencing rapid and steady growth, not every business works that way. For some, the road to stability is littered with speed bumps and construction zones.

What’s important to realize is that to some degree, what you experience in your business has happened to hundreds or thousands of other similar business. I don’t believe that there is any business that can honestly state that the fundamental nature of its business model is unique.

Instead of looking to the businesses which have taken a different route, you need to look at the route your business is taking. Find another (successful) business that underwent the particular stage your business is in today. Look at what was done to get out of that stage and onto the next. See if you can apply some of the lessons to your own business.

However, you must focus on your own road, not on the road that others have been traveling on. It’s only that which will allow your business to reach the success that you envision for it.