If you’ve ever dreamed about working for yourself or starting your own business, this two part series is for you. The traditional view of what makes a successful business is changing beyond recognition.
We’ll look at what has changed and why that means there has never been a better time to turn your idea into a start-up business.
The Starting Point
When I was first starting Less Ordinary Living, I visited the British Library to do some research.
Somewhere in the leather-bound aisles of the business section, covered in cobwebs, I find a giant tome – the Big Book of Business.
Flicking to the first page, I found what I was looking for – the Five Commandments of Business:
1. Thou shalt make as much money as possible
2. Thou shalt devote every waking hour to your business
3. Thou shalt grow your business as quickly as possible
4. Thou must raise finance to be a real business
5. Thou must employ as many others as possible in your business
I dropped the book on the floor and ran screaming from those hallowed halls.
For many people who dream of running their own business, these old paradigms can act as a huge barrier to turning the idea into a reality.
They make business sound monolithic, risky, profit focussed and frankly no fun at all.
A brave new world
The exciting news is that in the 21st Century, the old business commandments have been torn to pieces.
Rapid population growth, the information age, changes in gender roles, new social challenges, environmental awareness, the digital communications revolution and the internet have redefined the world.
If you’re tempted to work for yourself or start up an enterprise, the implications are huge:
1. Not just for profit – Finding meaning in your organisation
The purpose of a business is traditionally defined as generating as much profit and wealth as possible for its owners. A business was defined by it’s level of profit and income.
The owner looked to squeeze the maximum return from their investment, the workers strove to make it happen and feared for their jobs the whole time.
Recently entities such as social enterprises and green businesses have started to challenge this. They have a more complex purpose – to improve society or reduce the impact of an environmental issue – as well as to generate a profit.
Even traditional businesses are starting to recognize the importance of looking beyond profit as they are increasingly scrutinized by the public over their behaviour as a corporate citizen. I’ve yet to find the company who publicly use the slogan “we’re all about the money” (although I can think of quite a few who act this way).
Interestingly I find these businesses are very attractive as places to work for the talented people I interact with – they seem to provide a better motivation for getting out of bed on a Monday morning.
To really succeed as a business in the 21st Century, I’d argue you need to have a deeper purpose beyond the profit motive. Having a sense of purpose is motivating for you, and shines a beacon for employees and broader stakeholders explaining what you stand for.
So, if you have a great idea for a business or social enterprise think about what is your vision and purpose and how you’ll measure your impact.
2. Flexibility is the new hard work
Somewhere deep in our heritage there is a powerful message linking hard work and success. It is almost assumed that a successful business owner will be totally consumed in their work all the time – or they’ll fail.
“The only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary” – Donald Kendall
I’m not going to deny that hard work is needed to be successful as a business owner – however I believe that making business the sole focus of life is not the recipe for happiness or long-term success.
It is possible to create a business that allows you to make a living from your passion and lead a balanced life.
Increasing numbers of entrepreneurs and small business people are building “lifestyle businesses”, creating “portfolio careers” or balancing temporary or contract work with extended periods of travel, volunteering and enjoyment.
Businesses can support the lifestyle of its owner, rather than becoming the sole purpose of their existence. Businesses can provide the flexibility to enjoy your whole life if properly planned.
Some more traditional entrepreneurs can get very sniffy about lifestyle businesses, claiming they are not real businesses.
I’d argue that if you can build a business that makes enough money to fund the life you want and only work 30 hours a week (or indeed a four hour work week), more power to your elbow.
So if you’re building your dream business, think more broadly. What kind of flexibility and lifestyle would you like to be living as a successful entrepreneur?
By getting clear on the balance of life and quality of life you’d like to create you can get past the trap of working 100 hours a week on your business for ever.
Over to you
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Are you excited about starting your own business? What do you see as the purpose for an enterprise? Can a business provide a high quality of life and success?
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