Many business reach points where they seem to be stuck. They’ve plateaued and the business has difficulty growing. No matter how much work is put in they seem to be held back by some arbitrary limit. Often the limit is us, the owners of these business. The limits are the ones we’ve imposed and if we can recognize how we’ve limited ourselves and our businesses we can break through the plateau and attain new levels of success.
Back in college I remember the first day of each new semester was mostly about feeling out the professor in every class. We’d get a syllabus and see the requirements for the course. I’d sit there and think to myself how hard or easy each class would be and how much work would be required to get a good grade.
Some classes I could tell would be easy. I felt sure I would get an A. Other classes looked like they would be difficult and I would think if I tried really hard I’d be able to get a B.
A funny thing would happen. I usually did get an ‘A’ in those easy classes where I thought I could get an ‘A’. However no matter how hard I worked I could never get better than the ‘B’ in those more difficult classes. I had inadvertently set a limit on my success in those courses.
When I realized this I went into every class telling myself I would get an A and wouldn’t you know it, I started getting more ‘A’s in those classes. Not in all of them, but more of them.
The Limits We Set
A similar thing happens with our businesses. We think to ourselves how difficult some achievement will be and deep down don’t believe we can successfully achieve it. Or perhaps we’ve allowed our own biases to to creep into our business thinking. Because these biases are so deeply ingrained and often without logic they become impossible to break through.
Some limits aren’t necessarily bad. You have to make choices such as how to differentiate your businesses from others in the market. If you choose to focus on the high end of the market you naturally limit your ability to succeed with the low end of the market.
That’s not a bad thing. It’s a conscious decision to do well in one aspect of business at the exclusion of another. It’s one of the tradeoffs we have to make to succeed.
For example I tend not to work with larger clients. I didn’t like working for them and have a hard time believing I’ll like working with them. Does it limit my business? In some ways it absolutely does. It also helps me identify those clients I’ll enjoy working with more and consequently those clients I’m better able to serve. It helps set how I write content on this site and how I generally market myself. It helps direct me in many ways.
I consciously limited my success in one area in order not to limit my success in another. My view of larger clients does limit my business, but I’m conscious of it so it becomes a choice I make.
It’s the limits we aren’t aware we set that create problems. When you’re unaware of a limit you’ve set, it’s hard to get past it. You can’t make the changes necessary, since you don’t even know you need to make those changes.
One of my clients is a good example of this subconscious self-limitation. The first time he ever contacted me I gave him some advice about seo. He took the advice and almost immediately saw an improvement in the search traffic his site received. Since that time he’s never listened to any advice I’ve given him about seo. I’m 1 for 1, but he’s always quick to let me know why my subsequent suggestions wouldn’t work for his business.
Over the years I’ve noticed he’s offered very little in the way of logical arguments as to why he won’t follow my advice. Having gotten to know him I can see how many of his objections are simply a result of some arbitrary reasoning or some ingrained belief formed without proof. He’ll often come to a conclusion and then create arbitrary logic to back that initial conclusion.
Ultimately these places limits on how much his business can grow. He’s stuck in his ways and as a result his business is stuck in its ways.
What Limits Us?
Lots of things potentially limit us and many are unique to each of us. It’s usually our own psychological history that has led to these unseen limits we place on our success. A few common limitations I see all the time are:
- Self Doubt
- Lack of trust and self confidence in ourselves
- Resistance to stepping outside of our comfort zones
- Playing it safe instead of taking smart and managed risks
- Negative belief system
- Personal biases
These are hardly all the possible ways we limit ourselves, though I think the list above is fairly common. Fear is a natural part of being human. Self Doubt, lack of trust, lack of self confidence are common to all people who pursue creative work like design. Even the best designers wonder if their work is any good at times.
It’s much easier to play it safe and stay inside our comfort zones than it is to take a chance and step outside them. As human beings we all develop our own set of biases to the world. We like this and don’t like that for no reason we’re aware.
The thing is for your business to reach new levels of success you need to get past these self limiting behaviors. Your businesses needs you to trust in your decisions and to take intelligent risks. It needs you not to make decisions based on arbitrary biases. It’s all well and good for you to prefer an email over a contact form when contacting someone, but to not offer the contact form to your visitors only limits how many of them will contact you and become clients.
How To Overcome Your Limits
Recognizing you have a problem is the first step in solving it. Our self limits are no exception. Your first step is see how you limit yourself. This isn’t necessarily easy, but it’s certainly possible. Ask yourself why you make decisions. Seek to understand your reasoning behind the choices you make.
If you consistently do this you’ll likely see patterns emerge that you weren’t aware of and often these patterns will be clues into your own biases and self limiting behavior.
If you find this hard ask someone you trust to help. What’s difficult for us to observe in ourselves is often easy for other to observe in us. You may find yourself being defensive when someone points out ways you limit yourself, but try not to react. Simply think over what they’ve said and ask yourself if they may be right. You don’t have to accept what others tell you, but it can be a great way to discover unknown parts of yourself.
Overcoming Limitations in Creativity
At the same time we need to learn that others around us aren’t perfect. They too have their biases and doubt and issues. I think the biggest limitations creatives place on themselves are those that relate to doubt and self confidence. It’s important to learn to trust yourself and your decisions. All creative people struggle with the blank page. You see the finished product in others, but you don’t see their struggle to get to that finished work.
Do your best and then be objective. See the good you do instead of focusing solely on what you don’t do well. Start with the good and recognize it as a strength. See your weaknesses as opportunities to improve instead of letting the self doubt creep in. You do good work. Perfect, no, but there is good in what you do. Learn to see your work as objectively as you can in order to identify strengths to build on and weaknesses to improve.
Each little success builds self confidence. When you have even the smallest of successes congratulate yourself and realize you are capable of even greater success. Then move on toward achieving your next small success. Success doesn’t happen overnight. It seems that way looking at others from the outside, but success comes about through consistently making incremental improvements. See your small successes along the way as necessary steps to the greater success you envision.
Always be improving. You’ve identified a weakness so now learn how to strengthen it. Are you unhappy with the graphics you create? Spend some time with your graphic program of choice and learn to use it better. Experiment with new skills and techniques and have fun with the process. The more you do something, the better you’ll get at it.
Use your strengths to lead you in developing a creative advantage. What do you do better than others? Find your strengths and use them to set you apart.
The key to more creative success is to trust in yourself and to continue making incremental improvements in your skills. Don’t look at what you can’t yet do. See what you do well and what you do better now than six months ago.
Overcoming Limitations in Business
When it comes to business I think our greatest limitations are the resistance to taking managed risks and stepping outside our comfort zones. Risk is an inherent part of business success.
Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.—Unknown origin
Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration
The two quotes above are at odds. The first tells us to change when things aren’t working and the second tells is to try again. Both are the right advice in different circumstances. I think the first is more along the lines of what we need to do to overcome self imposed limitations.
Our businesses get stuck in part because we continue to do the same things as we always have. However we’ve likely wrung all the success we can get from our current methods and reaching another level of success might mean doing something different or taking a chance on something we think will help.
That something different might be:
- Trying new marketing channels
- Investing in new software, hardware, etc
- Spending more on advertising
- Making changes to your business model
The above is obviously not an exhaustive list. Notice that none are guaranteed to work and each would have some risk associated with trying. You wouldn’t jump into something like changing your business model without reason. The point is you also shouldn’t allow you own limits to affect that decision.
Don’t tell yourself a new marketing channel can’t work before you’ve even tried. Don’t be afraid to spend money when it has the potential to bring more money back to your business. Don’t be afraid to make significant changes to your business when something is telling you those changes need to be made.
One Way I Limited My Business and Then Overcame the Limitation
A few years ago this site was on a different domain. When I started this business I had just helped with the creation of a web hosting site and thought the idea of hosting would be a good way to earn a living. The word hosting was naturally in my domain name. Then I came to realize I didn’t really care for hosting or feel qualified to offer hosting related services.
I saw myself as a web designer, but my business suggested I was a web host. I knew that I needed to change domains and place more focus on the design and development services I offered. But I hesitated and did nothing.
There were risks associated with changing a domain and company name. I had done a certain level of branding and people knew me by the business name. I had worked years to build up search engine traffic associated with a domain and the many URLs on the site. While some of the risks could be mitigated, moving to a new domain was going to have its pains.
Traffic would decrease. I expected to lose subscribers to the blog. Some who knew me would be confused and branding work to that point would have to be entirely redone.
For a year I allowed my business to stagnate due to my own fears and self doubt about changing it. Deep down I knew I needed to make changes, but I allowed my fear to place limits on the business.
Fortunately I realized the only reason I wasn’t making the change was my own fear. Understanding that led me to consciously decide the risks were worth taking and I eventually made the necessary changes. For a short time business took a step back, but before too long it took many more steps forward.
I trusted myself and took a calculated risk and it paid off. I realized how I had been limiting my success through fear and in this instance managed to overcome the limit I had set.
Often when our businesses become stuck the reasons are our own self imposed limitations. We limit ourselves and our businesses through fear and self doubt, through choosing the safety of comfort over the risk of stepping out of comfort zones, and through personal biases we can’t logically explain.
The first key to overcoming these limitations is to recognize them. You need to see where you might be limiting the growth of your business and understand what personal mechanisms are at play. Admitting you have a problem is the first step in overcoming that problem.
As a creative professional it’s important to learn to trust in yourself and your abilities and realize that all creatives have self doubt at times. Find your strengths and use them as a competitive advantage. Understand your weaknesses and seek to improve them.
As a business owner understand that safe only gets you so far. At times you need to take risks, but with those risks comes the potential for great rewards. The easiest way to break away from fearing risks is to take small calculated risks. Your success will build confidence in your decision making and you’ll see that the world won’t come to an end if a smaller risk doesn’t pay off as you’d hoped.
Think about where and how you might be limiting your business. Sometimes consciously limiting one area of your business makes sense to you as an individual or the business as a whole. But you need to consciously be aware of how your limiting things in order to make that determination.
Do you know where you limit your business? Are you willing to push through your self limiting behaviors in order to reach for greater success?