Our nation was founded on Thomas Jefferson‘s famous words regarding our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This was a new concept 232 years ago and it revolutionized the way people think of government and its role in our day-to-day lives. It seems to me that business owners need to embrace this same philosophy in defining their business success. How we define success seems to have more to do with our personalities and the culture of the business, rather than profitability. Pursuit of business happiness is really about balance and making sure the business does not drift into dangerous areas because that is where we, as owners, are more comfortable.
Some established businesses have cash crunches and ups and downs while others don’t. Some business owners are 10 times as profitable as another yet do not feel successful. It really is about the business owner’s personality and life philosophy. After some thought, I decided to discuss three personality types: the Life to the Fullest, the Worriers, and the Contents. While we can say you should run your business by the numbers, the truth is that all of us are impacted by our emotions and perceptions. What you think about business impacts how you feel, and success is all about how we feel.
The Life to the Fullest: This crowd tends to be a group of extroverts with high self-esteem who have an active lifestyle with numerous outside activities. They are not egotists but rather people who work to live, not live to work. They ski the slopes, run in marathons, plan family activities, head up church projects and, in general, define a good lifestyle by activity. They appear to be happy, not worriers, and optimistically see the glass half full. The scary side of this approach is that there can be a thin line between optimism and denial.
The Worriers: This group tends to be anxious about cash, profits and business. They constantly study and analyze the business. Such caution is not a bad thing, but when taken to extremes it can impact personal satisfaction. This group tends to pessimistically see the glass as half empty. They tend to be busy “working” in their head. The scary side of this approach is that there can be a thin line between caution and anguish.
The Contents: This group is cautious and conservative by nature. They live modestly and tend to not have cash issues, and are satisfied with things the way they are. They tend to continually improve their business, but it is a slow and steady process. They see the glass as simply having a certain amount of water in it and are content with that. The scary side of this approach is that there can be a thin line between contentment and complacency.
What is interesting about all of the above examples is that the amount of money or profit seems to have little to do with how the business owners feel. In other words, success is about how they think and perceive things, not necessarily the facts. If you have not thought out what success would look like, you will always have a moving and impossible target when trying to define business accomplishments. Learning to use the facts to change or control how we think ultimately sets us free.
Use facts, not emotions, to drive how you feel about the success of your business. Using facts to measure your success can help control your emotions. Each of the above profiles has a little different challenge in this regard.
The Life to the Fullest folks should always work from both a personal and business budget. This helps them temper their urge to live beyond their means or drive the business to its limits. Without a budget, these businesses tend to have ups and downs based on owner distractions. There is no doubt that the owner has the personality, energy and ability to energize and keep the business growing. However, as the business matures and grows, it takes more and more energy to keep the inertia moving. Pulling the rabbit out of the hat to feed the monster at 58 years of age is certainly more challenging than doing so at 40. Using a budget to monitor and control decisions makes it less likely you will have as many large swings in business, cash and other issues.
For the Worriers, you have to lay out the facts and focus on them. Have a good financial advisor guide you and play “what if” to help envision possible catastrophes. Work hard to understand when enough money is enough. Look at what you have done in the past and understand that you are successful and will survive no matter what. Mark Twain once said, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear - not absence of fear.” We all have concerns; some of us simply have to work harder to control them. Most of us are anxious about the unknown. Children can be scared when in the dark. Business owners also tend to be more anxious when they run their business in the dark.
For the Contents, make sure you don’t let contentment turn into complacency. Advertise a little more, look to expand slightly, and keep your business active and alive. I have numerous business owners in their late 50s and early 60s who call me, and they have run out of work. Why? All of their customers have either died or moved. It is as simple as that. A business is a growing and living entity, and complacency can quickly set in.
Weekly, I receive at least one call from a contractor who complains about the market and tells me how things are. I always wonder what people want when they call a consultant to tell him how things are, and it is an impossible market. Well, just quit and save us both the time and frustration. Contentment is great, but getting too comfortable may place you in a precarious position in a changing market.
Don’t confuse business success with life success. For business owners, their life is their business, and to pretend that personality does not play a role in defining success would be foolish. What this means for most business owners is that they must understand themselves and put appropriate safeguards in place. For the Life to the Fullest contractors, this probably means setting up a safeguard to temper your enthusiasm. The Worriers need access to facts and advisors who will calm their fears. And the Contents simply need to be pressed beyond their comfort level. Understand yourself, set measurable goals and be happy as you pursue them.