Feeling The Squeeze? Why Your Business Feels So Tight

Lemon on a branch with leaves

Try as you might, you can’t squeeze your way to a bigger business.

We certainly try, though. We squeeze more hours into every day. We squeeze more customers through our sales process. We squeeze more offers into our business model.

We squeeze more and more into the limited capacity we’ve established for ourselves and our businesses. But at some point, you just can’t squeeze any more in and the flow of your business starts to slow.

Illustration of lemons: you can't squeeze your way to a bigger business

Here’s why that happens—and what you can do about it.

In the early stages of building a business, you’re focused on the activities that are going to meet your immediate needs. You might set a target of generating $5k in revenue per month—$4k for you and $1k in expenses. Maybe that covers your previous salary plus some wiggle room to account for uncertainty.

Then, you figure out what set of activities is going to generate that $5k per month. It might be 10 coaching clients paying $500 per month, or it’s 2 website design projects each month, or it’s 4 $15k consulting contracts per year.

From there, you design your business to create the capacity to hit those numbers

“Capacity” is the total accounting of resources you (and your team) have for operating the business: time, money, mental bandwidth, emotional wellness, etc…

Of course, “design” sounds a whole lot more intentional than it is. For most new business owners, there’s nothing intentional about it! But through trial and error, you figure out how things should be structured and what you need to do to bring in the revenue that you’ve set as your target.

Illustration of glass of lemonade with a diagram

Your goal is to fill your capacity.

Ideally, you fill your capacity and hit your revenue target. At that point, you might realize that you actually have a little more capacity. So you fill that too. Now your business is generating $8k per month and you’re feeling pretty great about it.

Or maybe you don’t quite hit your revenue target, so you figure out how to squeeze a little more in to make up the difference. You make it happen and things are looking good.

Of course, you’re working a little harder than you’d like to be but, who can argue with success? Right, so maybe you can find a little more capacity and fill that, too.

Now, you’re feeling the squeeze. 

It’s like trying to squeeze yourself into a pair of jeans that are a size too small. Sure, you can get in there—but it’s not exactly comfortable.

Things feel squeezed and uncomfortable because you’re literally squeezing a little more revenue into the same capacity you’ve had since the very beginning. Even if you’ve brought on a little help and upgraded your technology, you’ve probably only made incremental changes to the base capacity you started with.

Diagram of why a business can feel like it's overflowing

And not only do you feel squeezed into your business… 

But you can’t seem to squeeze more revenue out of your business.

It’s grown to this point and now it’s stuck at the same revenue ceiling. It might even be shrinking a bit due to the stress of the squeeze.

So what’s going on?

You’ve learned how to operate your business at the capacity you set for it in the beginning. But you haven’t learned how to operate it at the capacity you want it to be—yet. 

What’s more, learning how to operate it at a new capacity includes some potentially anxiety-inducing decisions. You might have to retire an old offer, dramatically increase your prices, hire employees, work with a different kind of client, or take on a new role in the business.

Instead of shifting into the frame of mind that would allow us to tackle these decisions head on, we keep trying to operate in the same ways, filling up the same capacity (but hopefully with a little more breathing room).

Diagram of overflowing business

You unconsciously (or maybe consciously) look at the hours in your day, the customers in your pipeline, the offers you have on the table and you try to “fill it up” in various permutations to get to a better bottom line or work-life balance. 

You might even try to squeeze something new in to see if it might be the missing piece.

But still, your business’s capacity remains the same.

While things have certainly gotten a little more efficient and you’ve gotten more adept at squeezing another offer or client in here and there, that doesn’t mean your capacity has changed in any meaningful way. 

You’ve developed mental shortcuts that are based on what you perceive the capacity of the business to be. You don’t even notice there are other options because your shortcuts—heuristics—keep making the decisions for you and bringing you back around to the same set of variables.

As long as you’re focused on filling the capacity you have, you’ll remain stuck.

To get moving again, you have to shift from filling the capacity you have now to expanding your capacity to hit future revenue targets.

Pitcher & glass of lemonade

What kind of revenue do you want to be generating 3 years from now? 5 years from now? How many hours per week do you want to be working? What kind of work do you want to be doing? What kind of clients do you want to be working with? How do you want to be serving them?

If your answers to those questions feel like guesses, you’re right! There is no certainty in trying to figure this out. The point isn’t to get it right—it’s to break out of the constraints.

(This kind of approach absolutely applies to non-revenue targets, too.)

And if you’re thinking, “Woah, woah, woah, Tara. I’m not entirely sure I’ve got this whole business thing down at my current capacity.” I feel you. The good news is that switching to a capacity-expanding mindset can help you identify the things that aren’t working right now and make adjustments that will serve you for a long time.

Shifting your mindset from capacity-filling to capacity-expanding has very real operational benefits. 

All mindset shifts do, by the way. That’s what makes them so powerful.

When you shift from capacity-filling to capacity-expanding, you start to ask different questions about how your business could work.

You might try to figure out what your business would look like if it was generating 2x the revenue it’s generating now while you were working 30% less. Or, you might ask yourself how things would work if you streamlined your business model to focus on just one offer. Or, you might imagine what it would be like to be managing 3 people who were all contributing to value creation & delivery in meaningful ways. Or, you might redesign your own job description and conjure up the kind of business that would support you working in that way.

You might even figure out what it would look like to create the capacity to bring in the income you want and redistribute profit to your team members and throughout your community.

Then, you look at the ways the structure or operations of the business need to change over time to hit that goal. That might lead to the aforementioned “potentially anxiety-inducing” decisions—but it also leads to a business that’s more sustainable, effective, and satisfying. 

You don’t have to make all of these changes at once, though! Making even one or two adjustments now can help alleviate the squeeze and set you up for making bigger changes later on.

As you work through this kind of planning and adjusting…

Your mental shortcut starts to change. 

Instead of seeing $3k problems, you see $30,000—or $300,000—opportunities. Instead of stretching to hit $100k, you make a plan for $500k and slowly make the moves in your business to get there over the next 3 years. Instead of seeing the deficit between where you’re at and where you’d like to be, you start seeing the stepping stones to even more revenue or an even more satisfying role in your business or an even more flexible workweek.

Diagram of mindset shift

When you start building for the future of your business instead of the present, you can make better decisions about how you run your systems, how you construct your offers, and who your business serves. 

I can’t emphasize enough that this is not a question of learning how to do new things with your business. It’s a question of how you approach your business in the first place. 

It’s a mindset shift—a small one—that produces immense results in the form of satisfaction, ease, spaciousness, and, yes, revenue.

Cover of What Works book by Tara McMullin

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