“This would be so much easier if I had more…”
Money. Especially money.
Whatever your situation, you’ve probably wished for more of those things to help grow your business. Reality can seem limiting. You only have so many resources and skills to make things work.
So what do you do, then?
Get to work with what you have until you succeed? Or go back to wishing things were different?
The choice is obvious. But even after we make it, many of us have limiting beliefs about constraints and how they supposedly hold us back. Constraints aren’t always the evil monsters under the bed we make them out to be.
Keep reading to find out how to use them to help you instead of hold you down.
Not the Problem You Think They Are
Conventional wisdom says constraints are negative things. They’re something to get rid of… or at least avoid if that isn’t possible.
But here’s the thing: constraints aren’t going anywhere soon. Get rid of one, and another emerges to take its place. Even the most successful businesses in the world operate with constraints.
There’s another way to think about this:
What if, instead of doing your best to ignore and eliminate constraints, you embraced them?
This might sound like a radical concept, but applying it can make a huge difference in your business. Instead of trying to work around the corners and snags, you learn to work with them and create something beautiful.
And you can always work with minor constraints while you’re eliminating major ones. You don’t have to put your business on hold just because you don’t have the resources, time, or experience you want just yet.
Making Constraints Work for You Instead of Against You
All of us face constraints in our businesses.
They come in all different flavors, and they’re changing all the time. Something might not have been an issue six months ago, but now it’s slowing down your growth.
A lot depends on your unique situation. Maybe you have less experience than your competitors. Or you could have a ton of experience, but you don’t have many financial resources because you just got laid off from your job and are breaking into the freelance world on a budget.
With all the potential limitations out there, you need a plan to: 1) spot constraints as soon as possible, and 2) figure out what to do with them to grow your business quickly:
Step 1. Identifying Your True Constraints (They Aren’t What You Think)
A lot of businesses struggle because they never figure out what their major constraints are.
Instead of drilling down to the root issues, they just make assumptions. Then they waste tons of time and money trying to address those surface-level limitations without ever fixing what truly matters.
What a lot of people think are constraints are actually just symptoms of deeper problems.
Say you’re a new freelance web designer. You have plenty of experience and a decent bankroll, but you’re struggling to bring in clients through your inbound marketing.
Here’s how you might identify your constraint:
“My website isn’t bringing in enough new leads and clients.”
You might think your website is to blame. Maybe if you just redid your design you’re get more clients…
But that line of thinking doesn’t cut to the root problem – the true constraint.
Your website isn’t bringing in enough leads and clients. Okay. Ask yourself why.
Why isn’t my website bringing in enough leads and clients?
I’m not getting enough traffic.
Keep asking why.
Why aren’t I getting enough traffic?
I’m not investing in PPC ads?
Why aren’t I investing in PPC ads?
Because I don’t know how to write a good ad that sells. I don’t want to waste money.
Why don’t I know how to write a good ad?
“Because I haven’t learned the basics of copywriting…”
See where I’m going with this?
When you look at surface-level limitations and keep asking yourself “why,” you question assumptions and find the key roadblocks holding you back.
If you don’t do this, you’ll waste your time and money doing stuff that doesn’t matter. You’ll spend months tweaking your website design, but you’ll never say what people need to hear to buy without addressing the copywriting obstacle.
Before you go any further, make a list of what you think your constraints are. Then question why those are limiting you. You might be surprised at what you find.
Step 2. Figuring out What to Do with Them
Once you’ve identified your true constraints, it’s time to figure out what to do about them.
Some constraints – like a lack of experience – will take care of themselves over time.
But what about all the others?
Trying to eliminate them all can take a long time, and in many cases it just isn’t possible. So you can use a combination of approaches – using some constraints and eliminating others – to grow your business.
You don’t have to tackle all of your constraints head on. In many cases, you won’t be in a position to address them right now. But your business doesn’t have to suffer. Proactively using these constraints takes a bit of creativity, but it might be exactly what you need to separate yourself from your competitors.
Let’s go back to our freelance web designer example from earlier. His or her inbound marketing isn’t bringing in enough new clients, and we’ve drilled that down to pinpoint the roadblock: a lack of copywriting knowledge.
This isn’t a constraint the web designer can afford to ignore because, It will still be around a year from now if they don’t do anything about it. But the designer can’t put their client work on hold just to learn some copywriting basics.
What can they do?
They could use this lack of knowledge to their advantage. The designer could barter design services with a copywriter to get the revamped copy they need. Or, if things went really well, they could even find a copywriter to partner with to offer comprehensive design and copy website packages.
With a little creative thinking, a “constraint” becomes an opportunity in disguise – an opportunity the freelance designer can use to make even more money.
37signals made the most of constraints when they were building Basecamp, the wildly successful project management app. Here are just a few things they dealt with:
Image credit: 37signals
Instead of letting all of those constraints hold them down, here’s how 37signals responded:
Some of the most powerful innovations and creativity come from places of constraint. Don’t underestimate your chances just because you’re less funded or experienced than your competitors. You can take risks, move faster to respond to changing demands, and pivot your business on the fly.
Some constraints are pesky despite your best efforts to use them to your advantage. If you can’t come up with a way to redirect your constraints for good, it’s time to tackle them in order of priority.
There are probably several constraints limiting your growth right now. Which one do you think is doing the most harm? It probably isn’t the first one that comes to mind.
The Theory of Constraints can come in handy to help you prioritize things. It’s an organizational management framework designed to help businesses spot and remove bottlenecks that make them inefficient. You can apply it in your own business – even if you work alone.
How? Imagine your business is a system. If your business were an assembly line that spewed out revenue and happy clients, where is the bottleneck where things get jammed?
Make a flow chart or sketch it out. That can be helpful in visualizing where value is created, exchanged, and any obstacles along the way. The idea here is to spot which constraints come first in the process and create other constraints. Eliminating those will give the highest-leverage boost to your business.
Image credit: Blog Marketing Academy
Nothing is stopping you from tackling more than one constraint at a time. I like to focus on just one to keep from spreading myself too thin. After all, you can’t abandon your business just to fix constraints. You need time and energy to keep the money coming in.
Designing Your Own Constraints
Ever thought about adding new constraints… on purpose?
It might seem like a crazy at first, especially if you’re used to hearing conventional wisdom about how you should eliminate constraints at all cost.
But a little constraint might be exactly what your business needs to explode this year.
Dr. Suess, in a bet with the founder of Random House, wrote Green Eggs and Ham by using only 50 different words. It’s sold over 200 million copies since. And Damien Correll, a popular web designer, limits himself to short deadlines to keep from second-guessing himself.
Freelancers and agencies have tons of options when it comes to whom to serve and which services to provide. Trying to appeal to huge groups of people like this forces you to charge lower rates than you’d like because you don’t have any way to differentiate yourself from competitors.
That’s why specialization is such a powerful constraint you can embrace. Instead of serving “everyone,” you narrow your focus to a niche market. Or, instead of offering general services, you offer specialized services that appeal only to people in specific situations. It becomes much easier to write persuasive copy and justify higher rates when you’re targeting a small group of people.
Beyond specialization, you can also put voluntary constraints on your resources and time.
Self-imposed time constraints can take your content marketing to the next level. By giving yourself deadlines to produce new content and forcing yourself to stick to them, you stay in better touch with leads and clients. And limiting your resources to land new clients forces you to get creative with up-selling current clients, partnering with other service providers, and generating referrals.
Maybe your business doesn’t need more options and resources. Maybe it needs strategic limitations.
Don’t Let Constraints Scare You
No one has unlimited resources, experience, or connections with influential people. Constraints are just part of life…
But not all constraints are created equal.
Maybe it’s time to reevaluate what you think is holding your business back. Instead of struggling with the constraint, maybe you could find creative ways to use it to help your business. Who knows? You might find this so effective you end up deciding to intentionally create constraints on your own.
Use as many constraints as you can while you work to eliminate the major roadblocks one at a time. They won’t ever go away completely, but you can keep things running smoothly by always paying attention to where the “bottleneck” is and addressing it.
Constraints aren’t evil. How you look at them – and what you do with them – will separate you from your competitors. There’s no better time to start than today!
What is the biggest constraint holding back your business? Can you think of any ways you could use it to work for you instead of against you? Leave a comment below and let me know.