Don’t wait for permission

A friend of ours recently walked the Camino de Santiago in Northern Spain. I'd heard of this 500-mile walking route before, but it was not until she came back and showed us some of her pictures that I really took a good look at what it entailed.

Walk 500 miles? You must be kidding, I thought. Most people who walk the Camino De Santiago do it because they regard it as a spiritual experience. When I asked Christine why she did it, she replied that it was just something that she wanted to do - but as she covered more and more miles it became a deeply spiritual experience.

The thing that really struck me about this was the fact that Christine had just decided to do it - and she went off and did it. She did not ask for permission, she did not wait for a better time and she did not hesitate - she just went and did it. Of course she did the research, spoke to people who had done it before and planned well - but ultimately she did not just dream about it - she did it.

When you're building and running your own business you need to have the same conviction that Christine displayed - you're in charge of your business just like you are in charge of your life:

  • you don't have to wait for permission;
  • you should take advice but act on your own; and
  • you must own your decisions.

You don't need permission

When you start your first business you have a lot of decisions to make. You know that you can use some help making those decisions, so you ask a mentor or get a coach, sign up for a course or join an accelerator.

And sometimes you find that you don't make decisions because you're still waiting for advice, or more information, or something to happen. Sometimes this is a good thing, but if you're waiting for permission you're going to wait forever - no one can give you that permission because they're not in charge.

I grew up in Durban, a city on the eastern coast of South Africa. The street where we lived was great because there were lots of other kids around the same age that we could play with.

We were one of the first houses on the street to have a swimming pool, and of course playing in the pool was so much better when we had friends around. But every time we invited someone they had to get permission from their parents. Permission was usually granted - but we would never think of not asking.

As children we were under the protection of our parents.
That protection meant that we had to ask for permission to do things. But when you're running your own business you don't have the protection of a parent or authority figure - you're in charge and you have to make the decisions.

If you find that you're always waiting for more information, or waiting for advice, you need to ask yourself: are you really waiting for permission? And if you find that you are, you have to step back and realise that you're in charge - there is no one who is going to give you permission to do something.

Take advice but act on your own

Advisors are great. They can teach you a lot of things and help you steer clear of things that you just shouldn't be doing. But advisors don't own your business and can't make decisions for you - you have to make those on your own.

The best advisors don't have a vested interested in your business.
They have nothing to gain from your decisions (except may a knock to their ego when you make a decision contrary to their advice). That independence keeps them objective.

I've sometimes made decisions contrary to the advise I've been given by some very respected advisors. Sometimes that decision paid off and sometimes not. But in the end the decision was my own and I had no one to blame but myself for the consequences.

You can take as much advice as you like, but in the end making a decision regarding your business is your responsibility. Your advisors cannot - and should not - be making decisions for you. Their advice is just that - advice.

Own your decisions

Once you've realised that you're in charge, that you don't need permission from anyone to make decisions in your business and that you can do what you want - then you're free to make decisions. But you also have to realise that those decisions are yours - to make and to live with. You have to own your decisions.

When things go wrong (or not as well as we would like them to), it's all too easy to blame someone else. Sometimes we get bad advice, or advice that in retrospect was not right. But advisors know even less about your business than you do, and you have to do what you think is right taking the advice into consideration. Your decision, your responsibility.

Owning your decisions can be a paralysing feeling.
We know that if we make the wrong decision things could turn out bad - so we put off making the decision, getting more information and more advise. Sometimes that's the right thing to do - you want to make a decision based on the best information and advise you can get. But always delaying that decision is not good either - you're going to get stuck in analysis paralysis.

Good news part 1: Whatever goes wrong can be fixed.
Very few decisions are life-and-death ones, and if you make a decision that turns out to be harmful to your business you can always fix it. At the very least you've learnt what doesn't work.

Good news part 2: You are going to make bad decisions.
No matter how good your advise is, how hard you worked at finding all the information you need to make a decision and how much thought you put into it - you're going to make decisions that turn out to have been wrong.

Like the old saying goes: hindsight is 20-20. Building and growing a business is not an exact science, so by definition you're going to make decisions that are not optimal. Once you accept that you're going to make mistakes, you're free to move ahead, knowing you can always fix it later.

Don't believe that you're always going to be right, or that a mistake means the end of the world.  

And when you do make decisions that turn out to be less than optimal, understand that it was your decision, the chances that it was a perfect decision were less than 100% anyway, and do what you need to do to move on.

But I will never have enough information to make that decision!

Not true. You will never have enough information to be 100% sure that your decision is the right one, but you can get pretty close.

This is where advisors can help: ask their advice, and as long as they're asking questions that you can't answer you probably don't have enough information or you haven't thought it through as much as you need to.

What if a decision can kill my business?

In my experience there are very few decisions that - on their own - will cause your business to fail. It is usually a series of decisions that cause a business to lose momentum and eventually fail. Along the way there are always lots of warning signals - and you should be paying attention to those when they become evident.

If you believe that a decision is so critical that you could damage your business, the best route of action is to break the decision into a series of smaller decisions. Then move ahead, testing each one and paying attention to the indicators that would show whether it was the right decision or not.

So break it up into smaller pieces where you can test each piece before you decide to move on.

Starting a business is a decision only you can make

Starting a business is a big decision and potentially one of the most damaging ones if you get it wrong. But we've learnt enough about startups since the dot-com boom to have some very good practices in place to reduce the risk and improve our chances of success.

When you started out you probably learnt to use the Business Model Canvas or Lean Canvas to test your business model. You probably then ranked your hypotheses and went out to test them to make sure you were building something people actually want. And you developed a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) to reduce the time to take something to market you could test with your first customers.

So the big decision of starting a new business can be broken down into a series of smaller decisions, reducing the risk you take and allowing you to pivot your business as you learn what works and what not.

And when you get it right you will have the pleasure of knowing you decided to do it - and make it work.


Building and running your own business is a big decision. You have to make that decision yourself, get buy-in from the people it's going to affect and do your due diligence - but in the end it's your decision.

In the process of building and running your business you're going to have to make a lot of decisions. Getting advice is critical, but in the end you have to make the decisions and take the glory - or the blame.

You will move a lot faster and get a lot more done if you remember three things about making decisions:

  • You don't need permission. This is your business, you're in charge and it's up to you to make the decisions.
  • Take advice but act on your own. Advice is great and can help you make the right decisions. Your best advisors have nothing to gain from your decisions, and in the end only you can decide what to do.
  • Own your decisions. Don't waste time trying to lay blame somewhere else - it's not going to help your business. Most bad decisions can be fixed, and big decisions can always be split up into smaller pieces to reduce risk.

Are you going to walk the Camino de Santiago?

Christine made a big decision to take a month out of her life and go walk the Camino de Santiago. She planned, got advice and made sure she was in good shape before she went - and it turned out to be one of those life experiences that she will treasure for the rest of her life.

Building a business requires that you make a lot of decisions, but just like walking the Camino de Santiago it will be an experience you will never forget. It's your decision to embark on that journey and your decisions along the way. You're going to make mistakes - but rest assured we all make them and almost all of them can be fixed.

And we always learn along the way.

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