Why now is a great time to start your own business – Part 1

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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).

Increasing numbers of businesses enshrine deeper principles into their mission (for example, the Body Shop, Clif Bar, Patagonia and the Co-operative Bank).

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.

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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

If you enjoyed this article and you’d like to read more about how to turn your idea into a start-up or work for yourself, please click here to join our mailing list to get regular articles delivered to your inbox.

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?

Please leave a comment to share your thoughts with our readers.

Photo credit: Aussiegall (Flickr Creative Commons), Ingorrr (Flickr Creative Commons)

Related posts:

  1. What's it like to set up your own business?
  2. In Search of Happiness – Part 1

Comments

  1. Phil
    August 18, 2010 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    Do you have an idea for a business? What would help you get started? If you have a business what is it’s purpose and how flexible is it?

  2. August 18, 2010 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    Hi Phil,
    It’s great to notice that what really motivates people these days is to find meaning and purpose in the work they do. It is an encouraging paradigm shift. Whatever we do, we want to look to be sure we are expanding and evolving. Expressing the highest version of ourselves will always be the ultimate payoff.

  3. August 18, 2010 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    Hi Phil, I love that Pamela Slim in “Escape from Cubicle Nation” says that you should develop a Life Plan first so that the business you create supports your vision for your life. THEN you build your business plan. If the business you are creating does not support your life vision, then it will not turn out very well – at least not for long.

  4. August 18, 2010 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    Hi Phil,

    If most businesses wanted to make the world a more humane place, you’d see all sorts of neat businesses open. Even today with the “new” model, you still have a lot of folks fixated on making a ton of money as their goal. And it never seems to be enough because each time someone makes more money the tendency is to make more bills, thus negating the income increase.

    My business is about encouraging folks to wake themselves up so they can take back their lives from the generic void they fell into. I got the idea after I’d woken up myself. We share what we need to learn ourselves.

    My business is pretty flexible. I offer my life shops and musing sessions at different times. I write essays/columns when I please. My life plan is to jump out of bed in the morning raring to learn something new, to hang out with friends, to see the world, and to be a power participant. So far, so good.

    Fun post! Giulietta

    This feels more humane than the 8 to 5 grind, where folks have to stay in a cubicle cage even if they have nothing to do! I’d like to see that model change to promote freedom of movement. It often reminds me of being in a human zoo.

    Giulietta

  5. August 18, 2010 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    Hi Phil,

    If most businesses wanted to make the world a more humane place, you’d see all sorts of neat businesses open. Even today with the new model, you still have a lot of folks fixated on making a ton of money as their goal. And it never seems to be enough because each time someone makes more money the tendency is to make more bills, thus negating the income increase.

    My business is about encouraging folks to wake themselves up so they can take back their lives from the generic void they fell into. I got the idea after I’d woken up myself. We share what we need to learn ourselves.

    My business is pretty flexible. I offer my life shops and musing sessions at different times. I write essays/columns when I please. My life plan is to jump out of bed in the morning raring to learn something new, to hang out with friends, to see the world, and to be a power participant. So far, so good.

    Fun post! Giulietta

    This feels more humane than the 8 to 5 grind, where folks have to stay in a cubicle cage even if they have nothing to do! I’d like to see that model change to promote freedom of movement. It often reminds me of being in a human zoo.

    Giulietta

  6. Ronnie
    August 18, 2010 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

    Phil,

    I would love to start my own business but my reservation comes with lack of investment capital. I find it hard to transition from a corporate position that I rely on for definite compensation to pursuing a dream that I really do not have the EXTRA money to finance. I wish there were companies or a service that would invest in potential start-ups with good business models and purpose.

  7. August 20, 2010 at 1:49 am | Permalink

    Hello Phil.
    As we get a little older there’s a little more flexibility required but I think also a greater sense of freedom in life.

    I would never have thought of myself as a businessman until maybe a year or two ago. A writer, yes, an author yes — hoping to make some money some day.

    Now, with my blog, I am more and more accepting and believing the notion it can be a successful business even if modest in size.

    Having the goal firmly and clearly in mind is surely important isn’t it?

    You mention the British library so you may be a Brit. I’mn a Brit too, now living Denver.
    Best wishes to you.

  8. August 20, 2010 at 1:49 am | Permalink

    Hello Phil.
    As we get a little older there\’s a little more flexibility required but I think also a greater sense of freedom in life.

    I would never have thought of myself as a businessman until maybe a year or two ago. A writer, yes, an author yes — hoping to make some money some day.

    Now, with my blog, I am more and more accepting and believing the notion it can be a successful business even if modest in size.

    Having the goal firmly and clearly in mind is surely important isn\’t it?

    You mention the British library so you may be a Brit. I\’mn a Brit too, now living Denver.
    Best wishes to you.

  9. August 20, 2010 at 1:50 am | Permalink

    Hello Phil.
    As we get a little older there\\\’s a little more flexibility required but I think also a greater sense of freedom in life.

    I would never have thought of myself as a businessman until maybe a year or two ago. A writer, yes, an author yes — hoping to make some money some day.

    Now, with my blog, I am more and more accepting and believing the notion it can be a successful business even if modest in size.

    Having the goal firmly and clearly in mind is surely important isn\\\’t it?

    You mention the British library so you may be a Brit. I\\\’mn a Brit too, now living Denver.
    Best wishes to you.

  10. August 20, 2010 at 2:21 am | Permalink

    Hi Phil,

    This is a great post. Interestingly, what I’ve discovered is the best and happiest entrepreneurs have always had a social and giving-back mentality.

    Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to meet some extremely success business owners (usually serial entrepreneurs). Those that prosper over and over again tend to be humble, caring, accessible and great at putting ego aside to shore up their weaknesses with people who know more than they do. These people are a joy to be around and attract opportunities – not because they’re focused on money (they’re not), but because they gain satisfaction from having a positive impact on the life of others.

    Sometimes accepted precepts don’t provide an honest picture of reality. Hopefully, BookConductors will be adding something useful among those UK tomes you dropped and ran from (we’ve set up distribution in the UK, EU and USA) :-) .

  11. August 20, 2010 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    I love your description of the library visit, Phil. So fun to read. Did that really happen or are you just spinning a damn fine story? Whatever it was, good stuff! And I’m in total agreement with you on this one. I have my own business because it gives me purpose and flexibility. I’m not very motivated by money, but rather by freedom and meaning. No surprise there. I suppose I do have a lifestyle business, seeing as how it fits my values and lifestyle. My only qualm with lifestyle businesses is that some are really selling the concept that people should work as little as possible and make as much money as they can. They just perpetuate the belief (that is so firmly entrenched) that all work is drudgery and money is the cure for what ails you. They feed on discontent. It’s the worst kind of snake oil to me. And when the people who are buying are possessed by it, they have a very hard time seeing real, authentic possibilities for themselves, seeing beyond the facade. Because truly, with those kinds of businesses, there’s no there there, like Gertrude Stein said. Nothing of substance. I hope I don’t sound like one of those sniffy traditional entrepreneurs. I’m not a slave to the “gotta work hard” mentality. I just hate seeing people taken advantage of.

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  1. [...] about working for yourself or starting your own business, this two part series is for you.  Part one looked at how the traditional view of what makes a successful business is changing beyond r….  It also outlined the old Five Commandments of [...]

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