In ten years of business, my definition of ‘success’ has evolved constantly. The definition I’ve gotten to today, however? I reckon it will stand the test of time.
For many people today, those two words tend to conjure up an image of someone lying in a hammock on a tropical island, cocktail in hand, with their phone and laptop casually arranged on a side-table next to them.
I’m pretty sure we can all blame Tim Ferris for that.
Thankfully, when I first started my web and graphic design business 10 years ago, I hadn’t come across The 4-Hour Work Week yet.
At that point in time, I defined ‘business success’ as being able to make as much from my business as I’d been making in the day job I’d just left. And, thanks to the network of contacts I’d built up before going out on my own, I achieved that level of ‘business success’ fairly quickly.
So my definition then shifted. It became being able to take a holiday without experiencing a massive downturn in income while I was away. That too was achieved fairly quickly, this time by bringing on a staff member.
Then I got pregnant, and my definition of business success changed yet again. Now the business needed to be able to operate without me in the office for an extended period of time. This was achieved—but only barely. I’d set the business up to survive without me in it, but not thrive.
Eighteen months later I had a complete breakdown from the combined stresses of running a rapidly growing business while also managing a household and being the mother of a newborn.
At that point in time business success was the last thing on my mind.
I didn’t even want to have a business anymore. It all just seemed too hard.
Fortunately for me, my husband was available to step in and take on the role of General Manager in what was now ‘our’ business.
(That one action showed me that business success for creative people can mean handing over the minutiae of running a business so you can get back to doing what you love: being creative.)
In the years since ‘my business’ became ‘our business’, our definition of business success has continued to evolve from:
- Me being able to stay away from the business for three months when our second child was born, to
- Me being able to greatly reduce my role in our business once our first child started school, to
- The business being able to survive a major, major business disaster, to
- The business being able to survive a major, major downturn in the economy.
I’m happy to report that we were able to achieve each of these measures of business success. There’s one definition that has remained elusive, however—my long-held dream of running a business that never faces any challenges. It’s only taken 10 years, but I’ve finally realised that dream is a bit silly.
In the same way that growth in life comes from surmounting challenges, so too does growth in business.
Take away the challenges and you take away the potential for growth.
Which is why I have a new definition for business success these days.
It’s one where both a business and its owners have the resilience needed to surmount all the challenges thrown their way.
- Losing a major client
- Entry of a well-financed competitor into the market
- A product that was a major money-maker suddenly becoming irrelevant
- Depressed economies
How does a business (and its owners) develop this resilience?
Experience gained the hard way over the past ten years has taught me these five things are key:
1. Prioritising health
When things get busy, or hard in business, the first thing we tend to do is sacrifice sleep and exercise and fall into poor nutrition habits. This is the very definition of ‘false economy’. Good health should be a focus and priority at all times, but it becomes even more important when we’re under the pump in our businesses and need the energy to do good work, make good decisions, and be across everything we need to be across.
2. Knowing the numbers
You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Once you start paying attention to things like sales figures and profit margins and email subscribers, something magical happens – it becomes very clear where money and time is being wasted. This allows you to tighten up systems and processes and get rid of services (and even clients) that are trashing your bottom line. Suddenly you have a business that is more profitable, has better cash flow and causes you a whole lot less stress!
3. Increasing productivity
It feels like we all have so much to do and such little time to do it in. And it’s very easy to get caught up doing stuff that feels like it’s setting us up for business success, but is really just ‘busy-work’. So the first rule of productivity is getting your priorities right – ensuring the tasks you are working on are those that are actually taking you closer to your business and life goals. The second is ensuring you have the energy to tackle those tasks with vigour. The third involves managing your time properly to ensure everything gets done.
4. Ongoing marketing
If there is one mistake I see consistently across all small business owners it’s this: they only start marketing their business when work suddenly and unexpectedly dries up. The problem with this is, the best kind of marketing is customer-centric, authentic and genuinely helpful (relationship building, blog posts, helping out in forums and business groups on Facebook for example). When you start marketing from a place of scarcity, everything is tinged with desperation and it’s very hard to be customer-centric and authentic.
5. Developing a resilient mindset
Running a business is hard, there’s just no getting around that fact. As I’ve already pointed out, however, it’s good that it’s hard. It’s good that it throws challenges our way, because great personal and professional growth comes out of those challenges. Key to taking on those challenges is having a mindset that is willing to tackle them head on rather than fall into victim mode and wonder ‘Why do these things keep happening to me?’. When you’re flying solo a strong mind is absolutely your business’s biggest asset.
You can start building a more resilient business TODAY
Isn’t it nice to know that instead of trying to chase 100 things in your pursuit of a great business, you need only focus on five? I know it was a game changer for me!
If you’re wondering which of the five things above is the best place to start, I highly recommend health. Good sleep, regular exercise and sound nutrition produce high energy levels that make everything in life just that little bit easier. They also ensure that when your business really takes off, you’re able to jump on and really enjoy the ride!
The above is an edited extract of Kelly Exeter’s third book 20 Simple Shortcuts to Business Success. It’s free on Amazon Kindle today so grab it before that offer runs out!