As an entrepreneur, you’re constantly facing new challenges in the lifecycle of your business. Getting your company off the ground is difficult enough. Building your firm to the point of break-even or profitability is even more challenging.
But successfully scaling a business is an entirely different echelon. It’s one of the most challenging things that all entrepreneurs deal with. And that is across all industries. Seventy percent of startups say that they have trouble scaling their company.
When growing and scaling your business, one of the most important decisions you need to make is about the path you’re taking to get where you want to be. Do you want your company to be on a journey? Or, do you want your company to be on a trajectory?
Here’s what you need to know about business journey vs. business trajectory and how the path you choose will affect your operation, both in the long term and the immediate future.
Trajectory vs. Journey: What’s the Difference?
To understand what we mean by trajectory, think back to your high school physics class. We were taught that a trajectory is a path an object follows through space as a function of time. It takes into account momentum and direction.
When we’re talking about a trajectory in business terms, we’re talking about the most direct path from point A to point B with set conditions.
A business trajectory starts with a clear goal, then defines the most direct path. For example, if you want to gain new customers quickly but don’t want to sell based on price, that’s a trajectory decision.
A business journey, by contrast, doesn’t involve quite the same level of deliberation and planning. You have a goal in mind, how you reach that goal is more important than the bottom line. When your company is on a journey, you tend to deal with things as they come rather than plan ahead into the future.
At first glance, it may seem like a journey is less desirable or less responsible than a trajectory. But as a professor once told me, growing revenue is the easiest thing in the world. If all you want is revenue, it is there to be had. But as we all know, there are plenty of horrible ways to make money. So a pure trajectory mindset isn’t necessarily the best option.
The reality is, a business trajectory and journey are on a spectrum. The choice is not binary, and owners will always fall somewhere in between. What you need to decide is where exactly you fall on that spectrum.
That decision comes down to what you value most. If you place a higher value on the experience of doing business and tend to go with the flow, then leaning more toward a journey may be best for you.
However, if you place a higher value on hitting milestones and reaching specific goals, leaning more toward a trajectory may suit you best.
How Will This Choice Affect Your Business?
When deciding between a business trajectory and a business journey, one major thing you need to consider is how your decision will affect the structure of your organization.
And keep in mind, not making this decision is one of the worst things you can do for your scaling efforts. Failing to make a conscious choice will cause your team to suffer from a lack of direction. If owners and stakeholders can’t articulate their priorities, employees won’t know how to best serve your company.
Not deciding between a trajectory and a journey can also have an impact on the blind spots you may suffer from as a decision-maker. For example, if you favor the journey, you may take on a client or a project that seems interesting. But in reality, it’s predictable and boring to you and your team. Even though they will be extremely profitable, this jeopardizes the fun you’re trying to have in your organization.
If you favor a trajectory, you may take on a client who seems simple and straightforward, but actually has a ton of personalization requests that keep you from staying on schedule and reaching your goals.
Knowing which path you favor informs all of these decisions and helps you answer questions related to your perfect customer, the organizational processes you need to follow, and how much overhead you’re willing to carry.
Why Does Choosing Your Business Path Matter?
To better understand business trajectory vs. business journey, let’s take a look at what these paths may look like in practice for a company.
You own a company with a lot of overhead in place because you’re trying to accommodate a specific type of customer who only wants to pay a fixed amount for your product.
You take a step back and discover you don’t really care for the customer you’re trying so hard to cater to — nor do you care for the operation you’re in. You may have let yourself drift too far to the trajectory end of things, and you forgot why you even started your company in the first place.
Likely, your reason for starting a business wasn’t to appeal to a very specific subset of customers. Instead, you likely had an incredible product or idea that you wanted to share with the world. But, by losing yourself in the trajectory, you lost sight of the fun side of things.
I recently spoke to an owner who had drifted a little too far toward the journey end of the spectrum. He wanted to buy a $4 million building for his company for no other reason than to say he owned a $4 million building.
While it may have been a lot of fun for him to boast about at cocktail parties, the building itself didn’t serve any real function for his business. He was so caught up in the journey that he couldn’t see how that decision was negatively affecting his entire firm’s trajectory.
While there’s nothing innately wrong with wanting a $4 million building, this owner was in complete denial about why he wanted the building and how this was severely damaging his company’s finances.
If he had taken a little time to consider where he was on the spectrum — and where he wanted to be on the spectrum — he would’ve had a better understanding of what was driving his business decisions and how those decisions would affect the overall growth of his organization.
To meet and overcome all the challenges of scaling your business, you must be anchored to why you’re in business in the first place. Where do you get your energy? What jazzes you up about showing up to the office?
Is it the atmosphere and energy that comes from helping your best clients and employees, or is it meeting deadlines and hitting revenue goals?
If you’re not clear about why, your company will ultimately suffer. You will constantly feel like you’re not hitting the mark. Your employees won’t know which ideas to bring to you and will feel equally unfulfilled. Then, you’ll find yourself complaining about how your employees never come up with any good ideas.
Making the choice and gaining that clarity is key for everyone. And there is no wrong answer. When you can identify what path you value most, you can then make intentional decisions to stay on that path.