Plan for things to not go as planned—A willingness to learn and improve beats perfection

By Anthony Centore posted 29 days ago


The first year of opening your private practice isn’t easy. There is a steep-learning curve, and tasks aplenty to get done (especially if you’re putting your efforts into opening a group practice). Additionally, there’s usually fear involved. Why? Because you’re invested both emotionally and financially. You’re all in. And even if you’ve watched others succeed, you can’t be sure that the process is going to pan out for you.

That said, what surprises new entrepreneurs the most isn’t the learning or the doing… it’s that things rarely go as planned.

Things Don’t Go as Planned—And That’s Okay

Imagine purchasing a Taj Mahal Lego set (5,922 pieces total). You open the box and see that the instructions are for the Lego’s Scurvy Dog and Crocodile set (4 pieces total). Someone swapped the booklets. So, you go back to the store and exchange it for the right one. You get back home and run into another problem: Some of the pieces are missing! The store is sold out of your set, so this time you call Lego customer service and they mail you the missing parts. You have a tracking number, and you watch your pieces travel all the way to… Phoenix, Arizona where the trail goes cold. A few days later the they’re deemed officially lost in transit. Someone locally says he can help you in a pinch, and you finally get the pieces but they’re the wrong color. Oh, by the way, this Lego set cost $30,000 and if you don’t get it built ASAP, you’ll need to tell your kids you can’t pay for college. This sounds like a perfect nightmare, but with entrepreneurship, it’s business as usual.

The Founder of Whole Foods, John Mackey, spoke in an interview about how his first store lost money, his second store was destroyed in its first month by a 100-year flood, and after rebuilding it he accidentally cannibalized it by opening one of his next stores too close-by (oops). These stories are as common as dirt. For Whole Foods, the path to success wasn’t just about climbing a mountain (that is, building a high-end grocery store with quality foods and then educating potential customers about why they should pay a premium for them), it was about climbing a mountain fraught with things that did not go smoothly.

Why Do Things Go Wrong? Nobody’s Perfect

  • The companies you work with aren’t perfect.

You’re underwhelmed by the service you’re getting from your attorney, your realtor, your bank, your EMR provider, your… you name it. Nobody seems to deliver quite what they promise, when they promise it. It makes you want to yell “You have one job!”

Here’s the thing; new entrepreneurs expect everyone else to have their stuff together. In reality, most of the companies you’ll work with—from the person who does your printing to the guy who delivers your lunch—will be small companies struggling to iron out their operations and make things work, just like you. Or, they’re huge companies that don’t need to get their acts together. You’ll take what they offer, and you’ll thank them for it because you are a tiny customer and there’s no better option.

Real Examples:

  • You try to rent an office, but the lease doesn’t come back from the landlord for a month.
  • Comcast makes another visit, and the internet still doesn’t work.
  • The brand-new computers you bought freeze and crash.
  • You give your graphic designer exact text for a brochure, and it comes back with typos.

Encountering problems like these doesn’t mean that “things are going wrong.” It’s part of the process. Have patience.

  • The people you work with aren’t perfect.

You hire your first team members and you’re shocked to learn that working for you isn’t the most important thing in their lives. They care more about their families, their friends, even their hobbies. In addition, when they are focused on work, they want to do things “their way,” not your way. In fact, sometimes there are serious performance issues.

There are probably a few things going on here. First, when you start hiring, you’re not good at it. So maybe your first hires don’t have the characteristics or skills you thought they did–and that you need. Second, nobody is going to care about your company as much as you or work as hard as you. Third, an established company culture helps to get people moving in the right direction. It’s hard to have such a culture when you’re new, or when you have just a couple team members.

Real Examples:

  • You get lots of applicants, but no one you feel is qualified.
  • A clinician won’t complete his notes on time, or no-shows for an appointment.
  • An office assistant keeps arriving late or calling in sick.
  • Your “social media expert” can’t seem to amplify your online exposure.

When you encounter these things, don’t panic. Keep moving forward. Building a team takes time.

  • You aren’t perfect.

Argh, that painful look in the mirror. You realize you’ve screwed up some stuff. You avoided some things you really didn’t want to do; like, spending enough time training your team, or learning how to budget with QuickBooks.

Real Examples:

  • Your P&L shows that you’re making money, but there’s no cash in the bank. You don’t understand why.
  • A team member quits, citing that you haven’t been providing the support you promised.
  • New referrals are low, and there’s a stack of unopened rack cards you told yourself you were going to distribute to potential referral sources.
  • Your website goes down because you forgot to pay the bill.

It’s okay. Just like everyone else, you don’t need to be perfect. In fact, I recommend not trying. Instead of trying to be the smartest person in the room, the person who can fix everything, the person with all the answers… it’s much better to just be you. Be the most curious, and the most willing to learn and improve. That’s the best anyone can do and the best example you can set.

About the Author: 

Anthony Centore Ph.D. is Founder and CEO at Thriveworks--a counseling practice, focused on premium client care, with 80+ locations across the USA. He is Private Practice Consultant for the American Counseling Association, columnist for Counseling Today magazine, and Author of How to Thrive in Counseling Private Practice. Anthony is a multistate Licensed Professional Counselor and has been quoted in national media sources including The Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, and CBS Sunday Morning.