Earlier in January we posted a blog on what you need to do to start a new business in Washington state. I recommend that you check this out if you are considering starting a business as it gives you some tactical steps to take to be successful (including some that, if you miss, can lead to a lot of headaches later).
Before you even get to tactics, however, it’s important to ask and answer this very simple question: What do I want my business to do for me? This isn’t just a starter question; this is as important for the individual who has owned a business for 20 years as it is for the person who is just starting a business. This answer becomes the North Star, and the business owner who stays true to his or her answer will have more energy, fulfillment, and confidence than the one who doesn’t.
Although this question is simple on the surface, it takes continual honest and sober assessment as you build your business and time goes on. It is essential to have this North Star in place, stay aligned with it, and continually assess if you are meeting it. Because without this alignment, owning a small business can be difficult and lonely. Many more people choose to have a typical job with typical hours with typical benefits – and there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking that path if your own small business is not doing for you what you need it to.
But hey – we are in the small business game, and we wouldn’t change it for a second. We absolutely love what we get to do each day. Below are a few things to think about as you think about that simple question – What do I want my business to do for me?
Don’t Be Afraid to Get Personal
When you work for a large corporation, you are essentially opting in to its’ values (and associated perks). If bringing my dog to work is the most important thing to me, I’m going to choose to work for a company that allows me to bring my dog to work. But you don’t really get to bend the company rules – unless you are the next Albert Einstein! Additionally, you don’t really have the luxury to think about how your personal needs are going to be met; you figure that out on your own.
The beautiful thing about owning your own business is you can focus more on the personal side of things – some might say that you can be a little selfish. But I would dispute the ‘selfish’ notion; being able to set the terms enables us, as small business owners, to have a balanced life and be able to give back to the community in other ways. In fact, I’d say what the world needs right now is fewer frazzled, stressed-out people running around!
Is it important to you that you are home to take your son to soccer practice? Or that you can meet your spouse for lunch on Fridays? Absolutely build those types of things into your plan, and don’t be willing to give them up!
Review Your Preconceptions
We all have preconceptions about what it means to own a small business. A fairly common mindset is that you have to work long hours, barely make it month to month, stress out about costs like health care, and constantly do things you don’t like (such as accounting). Many people still start a business despite that, as they believe it is worth it because they are doing what they love and not answering to “the man”.
These preconceptions are further cemented by noticing how small businesses around us operate. Whether we realize it or not, businesses are trying to impact our experience of their product/service from the moment we wake up to the moment we go to sleep.
Owning a small business has made us even more hyper-sensitive to these daily business interactions. We notice everything when we are connecting with other businesses – and not just the obvious things like customer service. We see subtler things as well, like when a business undervalues its’ services or is willing to work with people who don’t match its’ values.
As you analyze what you want for your own business, observe others – which business owners seem genuinely happy and how are they doing it? Which business owners seem miserable running a business and why are they so hassled or frazzled? And make sure that you are reviewing your own preconceptions. Don’t be willing to settle for less of an experience just because you think being a small business owner equals a frazzled life – it doesn’t have to!
Your Business (and your Answer) Will Change
In some ways, it’s easier to ask and answer ‘What do you want your business to do for you?’ when you are starting your business. When you’ve owned a business for any length of time, it really becomes a part of who you are. Walking away from a business is not easy – nor is making significant changes even when they are required.
As you embark on your journey, you need to understand that both your business and your answer will change. Your business will grow and it will face and overcome new challenges. Five years from now your business – the structure, people, and services – may look very different. But as your business grows and evolves you absolutely need to go back to the key question, because growth for growth’s sake is not worth it. Every change to your business needs to be viewed with the same approach that you started with, accounting for changes since you started.
Additionally, know that the answer to this key question will change as well. Perhaps you were single when you started your business and you got married along the way. You’ll definitely want to revisit the question and re-set what you’re doing so that the business is working for you.