How about this for a job description:
Wanted: A self-starter who is willing to work 12-hour shifts, 6 days a week, take minimal vacations, endure sleepless nights and pretend to be normal although plagued by self doubt. Compensation: possibility of better-than-average pay, with slight chance of personal bankruptcy.
That’s the job description of a small business owner. So, what makes so many of us not only apply for this job? Why do so many of us stick with it, even though all the hazards end up being as true as advertised?
We asked four business owners we know to help us understand how they keep themselves chugging along and focused on growing their ventures, despite the challenges and hazards.
- Mo Perry is co-founder of Logosphere Storysmiths
- Judy Jossi, owner of Slice Consulting
- Lindsi Gish is owner of gish&co
- Jennifer Zick is CEO of Authentic Brand
You can meet and learn from each of these owners at Getting Serious series for solopreneurs, Dec. 4-13. At these intimate afternoon workshops, we’ll dive deep into:
- Hiring your 1st employee
Get your tickets here.
Why do you want to grow your business? Like, what’s the point of growth?
Mo Perry: I ask myself this a lot. I’m less growth-oriented than I sometimes feel I should be as a small business owner. I find I’m more drawn to breadth and depth than towering heights. But that’s also a form of growth–the growth of the mycelium that connects the forest underground is as important as the growth of individual trees growing up and up. I’m interested in making connections, intellectually, spiritually, relationally, and in growing the reach of my understanding and relationships to encompass as much truth as possible. I’m also interested in impact, and in developing a broad audience for the stories that my husband/business partner Quinton and I craft on behalf of the organizations and companies Logosphere works with. Ultimately, I’m interested in the world and the forces that shape it, so I have to have the courage to grow big enough to access those forces, organizations, and individuals and tell their stories.
Lindsi Gish: I’ve actually struggled with this one–because, what I’ve learned is that I don’t want to grow the business much. For me, it’s very small incremental growth that helps us invest differently and better in our clients (and, yes, give ourselves raises). It’s not growth for growth’s sake, or growing to build something that has value beyond my and my employee’s time. Sometimes I feel pressure to grow (whoever said “if you’re not growing, you’re dying!” apparently didn’t conceive that my type of business might be successful and sustainable)—but I’m able to temper that pressure and temptation by reminding myself that the current mix is the right mix for us—and no one else gets to “should” us. Call it a service business (it is!), a lifestyle business (it’s that, too! And I love my lifestyle!) just don’t should me.
Jennifer Zick: I’m a driver and an activator. So if I’m not moving something to the next-level, I don’t feel like I’m growing. And if I’m not challenged to grow on a daily basis, I quickly become bored. So, in building Authentic Brand, we have fairly aggressive growth goals, but we are purposeful about not growing for the sake of growth.
Ultimately, the whole point of the growth is to build a healthy business that creates great jobs for good people who are doing their best, most meaningful work for our clients. For me personally, this means going to work every day with people I love, doing work that we love.
What do you do to keep yourself out of ruts?
Mo Perry: A rut is formed by repeatedly going back and forth over the same ground, or by spinning your wheels in earth that’s not providing traction. Part of what I love about being self-employed is that it simply doesn’t lend itself to that particular problem, in my experience. Every day looks slightly different–working on different projects for different clients, communicating in different mediums for different audiences, using different muscles to sniff out, frame, pitch, and explore wildly different stories for different purposes. And living by your wits means that if you find yourself not getting traction in any given pursuit, you better get out there and sprinkle some dirt and rock n’ roll until you bust free. Your mortgage payment depends on it. Sinking into soft earth with a shrug just isn’t an option.
Specific tactics for staying out of ruts? Reading voraciously, interacting with other humans regularly, traveling widely, asking big questions, giving your body what it needs to stay healthy and vibrant, leaning in to change, saying yes to invitations and opportunities, and acting braver than you feel.
What do you do to get through the inevitable hard times?
Jennifer Zick: I remind myself that a lot of people (not all of them smarter than me!) have figured this out and been successful. If they can do it, so can I. I just have to trust the process, be prepared for ups and downs, and surround myself with others who are 6 months, 1 year, 5 years, 10 years ahead of me on this journey. The wisdom and support of more seasoned entrepreneurs gives me the courage to continue moving ahead on this journey. I also pray and journal as a daily practice. It helps me to keep perspective – recognizing that my work / career / business is just one piece in a much bigger mosaic, wherein even “failure” (by business standards) can produce something beautiful and life-enriching. From that vantage point, I can see even the hard times as a blessing and another dimension of growth.
What do you do to make each day better than the previous?
Judy Jossi: Realistically, every day isn’t always better than the previous day…but, some days are just plain better than others. The trick is knowing how to improve the odds that you’ll have a great day most days!
When you work with clients or teams who have various priorities, deadlines and requests, many days can feel like you don’t have control, accomplish nothing and someone else is driving.
I feel my best on days when I accomplish most of what I set out to do.
The truth is, I am an obsessive list maker. Sometimes I write things down just for the sheer pleasure of crossing it off. As a die-hard list lover, I also set goals, some really small and some not-so-small. Some work, some personal. All written down or recorded, of course. I use on-line list apps, cute notepads, ugly realtor notepads, Post-It Notes, Post-It Pads and plain lined notebooks.
Then I look back each day and forward each day.
How do you steer clear of imposter syndrome?
Lindsi Gish: Steer clear! That’s funny. While not omnipresent, it’s a common feeling—and I think anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. Probably 4-6 times each year, I have a day or two of, “Oh, no, I’m a fraud, everyone’s going to find out, I am no good at what I do, all of my clients will inevitably find out how worthless I am and fire us and I guess I will just be a waitress again and learn how to drive Uber??”
I work through it in three primary ways:
- With the benefit of five years under my belt (and a little meditation)—I remind myself that the feeling is fleeting, and that I can compartmentalize it and set it aside until it dissipates. For me, it’s never taken more than 48 hours.
- I read somewhere once that only intelligent people get impostor syndrome, because they (we!) are conscious enough to know that we’re not perfect, that there is always subjectivity in the evaluation of work quality and performance, and that, pretty much always, someone else could potentially have done a (subjectively) “better” job. In short—”I feel this way because I am smart” is a pretty pacifying explanation.
- I remember that everyone feels that way! As silly as this one may sound—when you’re not feeling on top of your game, it’s helpful to look around and imagine that many other people are feeling the same way.
Without a corporate ladder to climb, how do you know what the the destination is?
Jennifer Zick: One of my children loves coloring books, and is great at coloring inside the lines. Give him a roadmap, and he’ll follow it and produce great results. Another of my children refuses to do any kind of artwork unless she can start with a blank page or canvas. She wants the outcome to flow from her vision.
I’m a lot like this second child. I’ve held corporate roles and have done quality work inside the boundaries of established process and hierarchy. But I do my best work when I can influence the shape of my role and contributions. I have always loved working in small and start-up businesses, because everything above my role is whitespace: available to refine and evolve based on how I can best contribute to the organization.
The same is true now in my early-stage company. On day one of Authentic Brand, I was the CEO and Founder, which basically was both the highest and lowest role in my one-person organization. The only way for me to grow is to build others up so that I can continue to elevate my role and impact. To help me stay focused on this journey, I developed and continue to update a three-year organizational chart, outlining several roles that the business will need over time. And I have a development plan and timeline for myself, which helps me hire proactively and delegate strategically.