I was lucky to spend time the other day with some colleagues I respect a great deal. They have all achieved what most would consider a high degree of success in their professional lives. We began talking about the whole concept of success. How much growth is enough and how quickly must this happen? Is it worth going into debt to accelerate your growth curve or should the business be self-financed? What’s the ideal market size and penetration? How much diversification should there be in your client base? Is it better to grow the depth of your product/service offerings or the breadth of your product service area? How profitable should you be and what is the impact of this decision on your business model? How much money do you want to keep and how much should you leave to your children? How many and what type of employees do you need to hire and why? The list went on and on, but what became readily clear was that there was no one answer that would suit everyone. In many cases it came down to personal interpretation.
In small business settings once you get past the obvious knowledge and competency screens, success decisions are most often a matter of personal choice. The owner(s) gets to decide how much risk (financial, employee, market, competition, legal, etc.) he/she wants to take, how quickly they want to receive the return on their investment and how much effort they are willing to expend to make this happen. Success isn’t one common destination where only the few and the lucky end up, but more like the Thousand Islands where the landing options are innumerable and open to navigation.
Of course, there are common metrics of performance that work across industries and businesses. All of us should use industry benchmarks where available and be open to accepted “rules of thumb” where applicable to help guide our way and give us a gauge of our relative performance. However, this information only increases our awareness of what’s possible, instead of serving as a fixed rule driving leadership behavior. I would argue that this individualized reality is a good thing. Every person who decides to take the plunge of entrepreneurship has earned the right to create his/her own reality. They just need to understand that decisions, like actions, have consequences.
The bigger question I urge my clients to ponder is, what is the personal legacy you want to leave behind and how is your business a bridge to this happening? Are you doing something that matters to you and is it aligned with your personal values? Do you feel you are making a positive contribution to society? Are you effectively leveraging your personal talents and abilities? Are you making informed personal and professional financial decisions and are you comfortable living in accord with these decisions? Are you happy with the current level of stress in your life? What types of relationships are you building with your employees, co-workers, and other stakeholders to your business? Are you happy with the person you are becoming? How is your family being affected by your business decisions? Knowing what you know now, would you invest your time and money in this endeavor again?
Whereas business is easily quantifiable in terms of financial success, measuring the impact of a life is more qualitative and difficult to discern. It’s all about choice. What you must believe is that business success and personal happiness aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, when viewed correctly, they are interdependent. My only caveat is that whatever filters you end up using to drive your success decisions, make sure the intentions behind them are sound, honest and life-affirming. Build the business that allows you to become the person you want to be, rather than simply striving to become wealthy. In the end, the money is only as important as you make it…
- Selected Quotes on Life and Success by Ralph Waldo Emerson (capacity-building.com)
- Ten things top entrepreneurs do differently (theglobeandmail.com)
- Business Management & Decision Making (thinkup.waldenu.edu)
- Managing Your Small Business With Mastery (businessinsider.com)
- Is Entrepreneurship Right for You? 9 Professional Assessment Tools (grasshopper.com)