Keeping an eye on the prize is something that many business owners tend to forget about, thinking about today instead of what will happen tomorrow. Sam Allman looks at how a lack of vision can affect a business' success.

Why did you open your business? Were you seeking freedom or independence? Were you seeking a respectable paycheck without a controlling boss attached to it?

Bill Brooks and Tom Travisano, authors of “You’re Working Too Hard to Make the Sale,” articulated a profound insight that bears quoting here. “If there is a fact about entrepreneurial decision makers that rings true, it’s that they’re almost unemployable,” they wrote. “Entrepreneurs are resentful toward any form of authority exerted over them. They lack the single characteristic every employee must have: being willing to obey the orders of a superior even when you think the superior is wrong.”

Do you fit that description? If so, the crucial question becomes: Is your business giving you what you wanted — freedom, independence and a respectable paycheck? In other words, do you run your business or is it running you? Why is it that most of us who established retail businesses ended up being “bossed” by that very business? Too often, our personal, vacation and family time are governed by what’s happening at the store.

I derived the title for this article from the Bible’s book of Proverbs. Have you read the passage of Scripture to which that headline alludes? In the flooring industry, I believe the lack of a clear vision is the No. 1 cause of store failures and their owners’ loss of freedom. Most of these storeowners are highly focused on their immediate goal of freedom, independence and a respectable paycheck. However, they’ve formulated only a vague idea of what they want to be tomorrow when they and their businesses mature.

These people think and act today, instead of thinking and acting today while visualizing and working on what they want tomorrow. Seldom do they consider the impact of today’s actions on the future of their businesses. They spend too much time doing business, instead of building one.

“Everyday at IBM was devoted to business development,” former International Business Machines CEO Thomas Watson Jr. once said. “We didn’t do business at IBM, we built one.”

A landmark study at Harvard University determined that the most important quality of successful people was the ability to think long term. Unsuccessful people think in short segments of time, whereas successful people maintain a long-term perspective.

What is the time perspective of an alcoholic? The interval between drinks. What is the time perspective of the average blue-collar worker? The number of days until the next paycheck. What is the time perspective of the average carpet installer? Never mind, we won’t go there.

But seriously, what is your time perspective as an entrepreneur and business owner? For many store owners and managers, that perspective is expressed as: “How am I going to collect enough money to make payroll on Friday.” Sure, it’s critical to solve today’s problems but, paradoxically, we have to do both — think for the long term and act in the short term.

Consider the long-term thinking that went into the founding of the United States. During the 1787 Constitutional Convention, the founding founders didn’t ask, “Who should be president?” That would be short-term thinking. Instead, they took a long-term perspective and asked, “What process can we create to ensure that our country will have good presidents long after we’re dead and gone? What guidelines and mechanisms should we construct to create the kind of country we envision?”

True entrepreneurs are visionaries — literally, people capable of seeing visions. A “vision” is the clearest possible picture of a future desired result.

In their well-known book, “A Passion for Excellence,” Tom Peters and Nancy K. Austin wrote: “You have to know where you’re going (and) be able to state it clearly and concisely. And you have to care about it passionately. That all adds up to vision. The concise statement or picture of where the company and its people are heading and why they should be proud of it.”

What’s your future desired result and time perspective? What do you want your business to look like when you’re done? Allow me to offer a half-dozen suggestions.

It should be producing a predictable rate of return. It should work without you. It should work with ordinary people. It should attract lifetime customers. It should develop loyal, dedicated employees. It should be a fun place to shop and work.

If you achieve all of the above, then your business is saleable. During my seminars, I always ask, “Do you own a business or just a job?” How can you tell? Well, if you wanted to leave your business today, could you sell it? If you can answer affirmatively, you own a business. If you answer “no,” you really own just a job.

During one of my seminars several years ago, a wonderful lady shared her story. She was 69 years old and her husband, the owner of a carpet store, had just passed away. He’d been self-employed all his life, and all of their property was tied up in the business. She had tried to sell the business, but no one would buy it. Because she needed to support herself, she had to take over the day-to-day operation of the carpet store. So, her husband didn’t really own a business, he owned a job — and she inherited it! Do you want a different ending to your life’s story?

There is a way to create this thing called vision. First, you think about what you want, how you want your business to operate, what it will be worth, and what it will look like when it’s done. Then, you write down that vision. You visualize it. You dream it. Second, you seek knowledge from seminars, books and mentors. Learn the recipes that other successful companies used and copy what they did right. Success leaves clues.

Third, you set weekly, monthly and yearly goals to move you toward realization of that vision. You spend one to two hours a day planning, improving your business systems, coaching and training your people, studying your financials, and measuring results. I believe that if you spend one to two hours a day in business development, not doing business, you will achieve a success you never dreamed possible. As preacher, editor and abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher said, “The ability to convert visions to things is the secret of success.”

The entrepreneur does not believe in excuses, blaming, justifying, or shaming. Whether he believes he can do it or not, he goes for it.

Renowned management guru Peter Drucker said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” You can do it. Your business can be everything you want it to be, but you first must have a vision. Rasmi Almallah, of Dallas-based Carpet Mills of America, has a vision. Several years ago, he told me his vision was to have 50 stores. Today, he has 39 or so. Every time I talk to him, he’s added a few more.

“In the coming decade, vision will be the critical executive skill,” noted San Diego State University professor James A. Belasco. “It’s not mystical. It doesn’t take a ‘special person.’ Vision is a statement of what you want your organization to be. It conveys a picture of where you want to go and how you want to get there. It is a simple-to-understand, inspirational, focusing statement. And then, it’s lots of actions. The ‘vision thing’ is much more down-and-dirty doing than fancy plans and words. But then, isn’t that what management has always been about?”

So, what’s your vision? Can you clarify and articulate it? If you can’t, beware. Remember my twist on the Scriptures: “Where there is no vision, the flooring stores perish.