August 27, 2020
When I started in the finance field, I had one goal: Deliver the perfect plan to every client I had.
I developed a system using complex calculus and economic models to deliver this perfection to each client. I was so proud of my work because it provided the mathematically fastest path to wealth and my clients could retire ten years earlier or gain 30%-to-50% more money along the way. It was a work of art.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t catching on. I had provided these overly in-depth plans that mathematically made financial decisions so abundantly clear that clients wouldn’t need to worry about money. The problem? The clients didn’t follow the advice. Young and new to the financial field, I had failed to remember one important factor: People don’t always do the smart thing when it comes to money. They, in fact, do very unpredictable things with money. My role wasn’t to pigeon-hole them into an idealized system, perfect in a vacuum. Instead, I had to build pragmatic systems to predict and adapt to imperfect decisions.
This designed flexibility ended up also making my systems more responsive to fast developing opportunities. My lack of perfection became my strength when I used to believe my clients wanted perfect.
Running a business is a messy, complicated and trying endeavour. You’ll regularly deal with issues far outside your control and be asked to navigate them with grace. Your clients will change their minds. They will find hidden issues that weren’t possible to predict. They will expect unrealistic deadlines. It isn’t always possible to serve their every need. Or sometimes it’s just hard.
But you shouldn’t strive for perfection. It can destroy any potential business effort. The pursuit of perfection prevents new businesses from launching because the owners want every little aspect of the business to run exactly as they want, before any clients exist. The pursuit of perfection leaves you missing deadlines, all to achieve some slightly better version of what you already created. The pursuit of perfection leaves you late to launch, leaving your business behind competitors. Essentially, perfection can sink a business.
Instead of seeking perfection, you need to position yourself in a way that can respond to the unexpected. It’s similar to the financial strategies I built. When things aren’t perfect, you still need to prove that the job can get done. But it’s how smart businesses move forward. You see it all the time in software firms, which deliver versions of the product, knowing customers will find bugs in the system. The mass use of the software, though, allows for quicker recognition of the bugs, which the company then fixes. They’re not seeking perfection in that first delivery. Instead, they’re seeking information, so they can better adapt and tweak the product. Perfection would be an enemy of this process.
When you realize your search for perfection has become a business flaw, instead of tweaking everything under the sun, reframe imperfections as a strength. Here’s where you can look for the opportunity.
As a new business, you must provide an excellent experience. This requires focusing your business on your company’s strengths. The same goes for you.
Part of perfection is trying to have a hand in everything that happens in your company. Stop trying to overextend yourself or doing parts of the job you’re not an expert in. Instead, you must give your team the ability to do the job, outsource duties you don’t do well and avoid tasks you’re not familiar with. It’s common for new entrepreneurs to fail by accepting roles outside their area of expertise, simply to try and please a client. They end up falling behind or having to redo work as they make mistakes. Don’t do this.
Instead, learn to commit to things you can do fast and well. Try to learn new skills on your own time or with mentors that can keep you on schedule. If a job needs work outside of your skillset then subcontract it, partner with someone in the know or turn it down. You have to be in control when it’s appropriate and release control when necessary. Those that do this fluidly, can turn it into a strength.
Many things that affect your business are outside of your control. And even if you put your faith in others to get certain things done, whether they be suppliers or contractors, you also can’t expect perfection from them either. You don’t get a free pass, but rather you’re required to plan around the potential hiccups.
If you want your customers to have a good experience then you need to solve problems outside your control. What will you do if your software goes down? Your supply chain will run into problems from time-to-time, as COVID-19 has proven. What will you do in such a situation? As a good entrepreneur, your goal isn’t to make your problems, your clients’ issues. Nor is it to expect everything to always run perfectly. Instead, a good entrepreneur limits problems while a great one has redundancies planned so well that it doesn’t feel like a problem ever occurred.
If you’re in pursuit of perfection, a mistake can be devastating. In reality, a mistake is just a problem to work around. People make mistakes all the time, that’s fine and expected. It’s how you bounce back that will define your brand.
Learn to apologize once and offer solutions if a mistake that impacts a client or customers comes up. The best companies make mistakes and move forward. Early in my career, I presented a complicated set of financial projections and somehow the formula used created a mistake in the expectations. I noticed the error on the spot, apologized for it and explained why I knew the numbers weren’t correct. The clients moved forward with me anyways because my ability to correct that error on the spot highlighted my understanding of the complex situation. I turned something that could have been a huge issue into a display of expertise.
Correcting the error timely and effectively is more important than expecting them to never happen. Those that can think on their feet in such a way, will rarely find a problem that they can’t turn into a solution.
It’s important to remember that you’re not the whole of your future skills, today. You will learn new things, develop new skills, and understand new concepts. Your perfect now will look like trash later.
As a new entrepreneur your skills will grow rapidly. Chasing perfection today will feel silly later, since your improved skills will put what you perceive as perfect today to shame.
I recently spoke with an entrepreneur I know, and asked him about his experiences during his first year. “I wish I knew six months ago what I know now,” he said. “I would have made so much more money!”
It’s exactly how everyone feels. He went on to add that every six months that pass, he feels like he’s playing a different game with all his new knowledge.
“But I guess I had to make those mistakes and decisions to learn what I know now,” he added in a perfect moment of self reflection. And that’s the point; you will learn and grow.
Don’t get caught up on what you think the definition of perfection is today. Your best work will always be ahead of you. Plan for that and use it to your advantage by getting started.
By Timm McLean, MBA |
CEO at WLTH