Why Chaos Is Killing Small Businesses and the Formula for Conquering It

Why Chaos is Killing Small Businesses and the Formula for Conquering ItWe are in an entrepreneurial revolution. There has been an epic shift in people starting new businesses. People leave their jobs, either by choice, or by being laid off. With big ambitions, they pursue their passions and start a business. The unfortunate truth is that most small businesses fail. In the next 12 months alone, 600,000 new small businesses will be created. By the end of the year, more than half will have to close up shop forever.

A recent report by the National Small Business Association showed that more than 41 percent of entrepreneurs are concerned about the survival of their small businesses. None of those numbers feel good to me—and I’d guess they don’t feel good to you, either. I agree with the NSBA that “more can be done to ensure entrepreneurship remains a viable, attainable option for every American.” I strongly believe entrepreneurship is the answer to many of the problems America faces.

So what turns the dream of entrepreneurship into a nightmare time after time?

It’s called chaos and it is killing small businesses everywhere. What causes chaos? What are the symptoms? All-nighters at the office. Missed Little League games. Cold dinners and disappointed families waiting for you at home. Does this sound like you? These are all symptoms of chaos.

All seems to be going well for the small business owner until they get their first customer. That’s when chaos moves in and starts to take over. Before they can come up for air they’ve been sucked under by the business.

Don’t give up. There’s a better way to run a small business. You can grow a successful small business and still have a life, if:

  • You get your mind-set right
  • You get your systems right

Over the years I have talked to thousands of small business owners and, trust me, they have all experienced chaos at some point. Scott and Eric Martineau, my co-founders and I, experienced this chaos ourselves growing our business, Infusionsoft. Today, Infusionsoft has more than 20,000 small business users. We received nearly $20 million in venture capital. We have made the Inc. 500 list four consecutive years. Our culture is thriving. Sure, we still have moments where chaos creeps up. That’s normal. But you have to confront it, identify the root cause and put solutions in place that get you back on track.

In our new book, Conquer the Chaos: How to Grow a Successful Small Business Without Going Crazy, we talk about a six-step formula that will help you conquer the chaos so that you can focus on what’s most important—growing your business. The moment we got a handle on these six steps was the moment we went from a struggling start-up to a multimillion-dollar, fast-growth software company.

1) Build your emotional capital. Emotional capital is the currency you use to wake up every day and fight the battle. It’s the passion, enthusiasm and positive outlook that propel you through your day, keeping you driven to achieve your goals. It’s the balancing of work, family, and emotional and physical health.

2) Practice disciplined optimism. If you are going to survive the chaos, and survive it well, you must be prepared to handle all the pain and unpleasantness that comes with running a small business. It starts with (1) an undying belief that your small business will achieve the success you have envisioned, while at the same time, (2) confronting the brutal facts of your current reality, and (3) attacking those brutal facts because you want to, not because you have to.

3) Assert your entrepreneurial independence. You decide the fate of your business. If you don’t believe something is going to work, no one else will, either. Self-doubt leads to seeking approval and advice. At some point you must believe and trust your convictions, and that means not asking for so much advice. One of the reasons business owners seek outside input is because their objectives are not clear. If you haven’t decided the direction in which you want to take your business, figure it out.

4) Centralize and organize your stuff. As an entrepreneur, you have an especially complicated situation. Corporations have hundreds, even thousands of people to do the same job you’re trying to accomplish on your own. You’re the boss, sales team, marketing department, tech support, customer service and the janitorial staff. If you are anything like we were, you’ve got information, reports, records and financial statements everywhere. To build a solid business foundation and get one step further out of the chaos, you’ve got to centralize your operations.

5) Tap into the magical power of follow-up. The moment the Martineau brothers and I realized how important follow-up was to our business was the moment that accelerated our move out of chaos and quickly transformed our business into a multimillion-dollar company. When you fail to follow up, you’re losing out on incredible opportunities and causing yourself more pain and frustration. You’re stunting your growth and prolonging your partnership with chaos.

6) Burn the to-do list and move from manual to automated. Automation is the key factor to saving you time, money and manual labor. But automation also tends to be the one principle that is missing from most small businesses. Automation is intentional and purposeful and it will propel the entrepreneur out of chaos into liberation. With automation, you get the benefits of achievement without activity, productivity without busy-ness. Big businesses have learned to automate everything possible. But most small businesses are havens for manual, grunt labor that wastes time, costs money and enslaves the business owner to the business.

Taking these six steps will change your business forever–for the better–just as it changed ours.


Clate Mask Clate Mask is Co-Founder and CEO of Infusionsoft, a fast-growth software company that helps small businesses convert more leads, save time and manage more with less with its web-based software. He also is co-author of the New York Times best-seller Conquer the Chaos: How to Grow a Successful Small Business Without Going Crazy.

14 Reactions
  1. great article Clate, the first thing i did when i decided to start my own business was to put systems in place, for phone, email, and website inquiries, process map of our design process, even though it was just me i put everything in to a manual so that i could easy remove myself from the day to running of the business. now every part of the business has a work flow that everyone follows.

    look forward to reading the book.


  2. Clate,
    Thanks for the kick in the pants!! This is a great post and your book is packed with great ideas. I know I have to do a better job of creating a system and automating. THanks for the help.

  3. Great content,

    The problem I often see is people jumping into the entrepreneurial game without a clear expectation of what owning your own business is like.

    I wrote an eBook so people on the fence know what they are getting into. You can download a free copy off my blog http://www.nosmokeandmirrors.com .

    Too often I receive calls after they took the leap, and they find it was not what they expected.

    I can’t wait to read the book.

    Mark Allen Roberts

  4. Thanks for all the comments, folks. Mark Allen–I like the angle of your ebook. Anything we can do to help entrepreneurs understand what they’re getting themselves into and how to be successful is good stuff! My hope is simply that people will be excited about the opportunity of entrepreneurship and take on the challenges head on instead of shrinking when those challenges rear their ugly head. That’s the whole point of the Mindset and Systems Strategies–to help entrepreneurs conquer those challenges and be successful!

  5. Love this article-especially the use of automation to address the chaos. I believe the only way small businesses survive (and thrive) past one generation is with systems, and automation is a big part of it. Thanks Clate.

  6. Clovia Hamilton

    Clate, thanks for writing this article. A friend of mine and fellow biz owner recently called the small biz chaos “noise”. She was referring to all of the advice we get online in twitter, facebook, and linkedin chats. Much of the advice is good. But, when you are trying to attend to your clients and grow the business with marketing and other biz development tactics, it can indeed get noisy and chaotic.

    I recently moved my cork board of q cards, calendar, desk, laptop, printer, and stair stepper into my bedroom. It’s all right next to the bed. Now, when I wake up, I hope to it. I sorted out the goals, the tasks, and put some systems in place. I crank it out every morning because that’s my peak per my biorhythm. When I need a break, I stair step, stretch, etc.

    So, I’m glad you put it out there that being an entrepreneur requires systems! I wrote an ebook of 25 lessons that I give out as a free gift at http://www.lemongrassplanning.com and I’m working on one to sell of 100 lessons because entrepreneurs do indeed need to know what they are getting themselves into and how to plan ahead to be successful.

  7. Many entrepreneurs experience what Michael Gerber describes in the E-Myth – starting out as technician and the business grows because you’re really good at what you do and probably good at sales and marketing. Now you become the manager and have to recruit, train and lead and manage staff. Eventually you get to be the business owner where he coined the phrase working ON the business not IN the business. I’ve worked with hundreds of small to medium businesses (large ones usually have people on staff for process and quality control) to help the owners change their mindset, understand how to delegate and improve their overall workflow. We’ve developed 7 steps to systemising your business. I agree with Clate, the more you can automate the more effective and efficient you become. I applaud Ben@Thrive, you are so far ahead of the game. Well done.