When we think about starting a business, it's often all big dreams and aspirations.
Maybe you wanted to open a retail store, and you pictured being able to come and go as you please: You'll pop in on Saturdays to check in, and take Sundays off. You won’t be manning the cash register or restocking shelves – that’s what employees are for.
Or you came up with a fantastic product idea – the next Kooky Pen, better than Silly Bandz – and assumed that once you got it off the ground and in stores, you'd largely be able to sit back, manage the company, and watch the money roll in.
In reality, it's very rarely like this – as you well know. And when it is, it happens far down the road, after many years of grunt work and dedication. If you’re stuck in this part of small business ownership – the part you didn’t picture when you imagined your life as a business owner, doing what you’ve always wanted to do – or things simply took a turn in a different direction and the company you’ve built isn’t what you thought it would be, it can be really hard to love what you do. But that kind of happiness, that passion, is a major key to success, and ultimately, financial comfort.
Luckily, you can develop that passion even if you aren’t quite doing what you love right now. The key is to learn to love what you’re doing, says Jonathan Fields, author of Career Renegade: How to Make a Great Living Doing What You Love.
- Look backwards. Do you remember why you went into this business in the first place? It’s important. First, it might help bring you back to your roots, to the goal in all of this, which may not have been achieved yet. Even so, it’s still on the horizon, and knowing that you’re making progress toward it can really help you get through the days. But second, looking backwards can help you assess the situation to figure out whether or not things are going to get better. If you don’t see a point where what’s making you unhappy is going to change – you won’t be able to hire more employees so you can focus on what you want to do, or your business model is built on solving a single problem, and there’s no changing your focus, it might be time to make some bigger decisions about whether you want to continue on. But if you have flexibility to make adjustments, or you’re just experiencing some growing pains and things will get better once you have more sales or clients, you have to remind yourself to stay the course.
- Smell the roses. Try to recognize the positive things in each day. Not just a big sale or a new client, but the little things that often go unnoticed: a good cup of coffee, the fact that you have a business at all in a tough economy, the atmosphere you’ve created in your office. If you can’t find enough positives to propel you through the day, fake it. Tell yourself it’s going to be a good day, be kind to your employees, appreciate their work, appreciate your own work. These sound like small, trivial things, but they can really add up to a better day, and after a while, they’ll build on each other and you may start having better weeks and months.
- Make a change. The benefit of being a business owner is that a lot of the things that make people unhappy as employees – colleagues they don’t get along with, demanding bosses, feeling unappreciated – are well within your ability to change. Look at five major areas, says Fields, and see if making some tweaks could improve your quality of life: People, culture, physical setting, mission, and the day to day tasks and processes. “Ask yourself – what makes me come alive? And then in the business, is each category synced up with what makes you come alive, or is there a conflict?” It’s a common mistake for business owners to surround themselves with people who are experts in the field, but you might not mesh well on a personal level. Or maybe you’ll find that you truly do love the business, but you hate mundane tasks like accounting or paperwork. The beauty here is that most of these things can be molded, at least a little, to fit your needs. Maybe you find a way to fit an accountant into your budget, so you can focus on what you do best. Or you revisit your mission and get back to your roots.
- Acknowledge that you might have been wrong. If you painted a rosy picture of what life would be like as a small business owner, or you took a leap of faith to start a company and the profits just aren’t coming in, you have to recognize that. “This isn’t what people want to hear, but if you launch a business based on assumptions that you later find out to be completely wrong, and the way that you would correct them makes you no longer interested in the business, it may be a better idea to walk away,” says Fields.
- Don’t be afraid to fail. Sometimes, you just have to acknowledge that it’s just not working out. “The reality is that a ton of businesses fail. Every successful entrepreneur I’ve ever met has failed way more than they’ve succeeded. In fact, it’s almost evidence of that fact that you're willing to continue to try and innovate. If you don’t try, what inevitably happens is you start to move sideways,” says Fields. Think of it as opening yourself up to new opportunities – opportunities that will, hopefully, make you happy.
Image credit: Pictr 30D
Jean Chatzky, award-winning journalist and best-selling author, is the financial editor for NBC's "Today," a contributing editor for More magazine, and a columnist for The New York Daily News. She is the author of six books, including her newest, Money 911: Your Most Pressing Money Questions Answered, Your Money Emergencies Solved. Check out Jean's blog at JeanChatzky.com. You can also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
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