Becoming an authentic entrepreneur is something that took me almost 3 decades in business to focus on. I spent decades chasing projects that were not suited for me, in the effort to measure up to society’s ideal business success model. Maybe you’re here too! Let’s dive into being an authentic entrepreneur and three key lessons you have to ask yourself.
Authentic entrepreneur or authentic entrepreneurship is focusing on what you’re good at and where you can help others. A sweet spot of “here’s who I am, and here’s what I can give to the world”, if you will. It extends to the following areas: what you want to offer to the world, how much the world pays for that, whom you want to work with, how much you want to work, how much money you want to make and what kind of lifestyle you want.
All of these change throughout your business life. I’ve been in business since 1987. We’ve come full circle of oversized blazers and shorts at the office, so I’ve seen it all – and I’ve had all size businesses (buildings, staff, projects, partners) in that thirty plus years in business. I’ve learned a thing or two about all of that, and I want to share it with you!
When you first dreamed up your business, what did it FEEL like? What did it look like in your mind? How many people worked with you, whom did you work with, what energy and excitement flowed through your business. Write this all down. It’s best (according to psychologists) to write this as a third party narrative: “Ann shows up in her beautiful home office each morning, cup of coffee in hand, at 9:30am and starts her day reviewing projects in her notebook…” Write everything down: the kinds of people you work with “Ann has an hour and a half session on web development scheduled in person with Sara today, and she has her office ready for their session.” Write down what you do with them, how much you are making, how many hours a day you’re working and what is igniting your passion that day. The more details you have in place, the better your business visioning plan will come together.
I’m here to tell you that there were some really miserable years where I felt like George Baily from “It’s a Wonderful Life” where he thinks he’d be better off dead than alive and his business is a chain holding him down. It would come in waves, some years would be great, others, really bad (and it didn’t really matter the income or size of the business either.)
And I’ve not had ANY of those miserable years when I stopped focusing on what society wanted out of business success and started focusing on my own definition of it.
What role does your business serve in your life? Are you the sole breadwinner like my friend Jennifer? Is this your side hustle grown into a business like Wendy? Do you want to work from home so you can be with your kids like Julie? (I know you don’t know Jennifer, Wendy or Julie, but you know people just like them!)
Write down what you want your business to DO for you. For a good number of years, my business had to provide for my family. Now it has to provide for my future – including my children’s college education, my retirement (both as a part-time business and also in retirement savings now.) It doesn’t have to put all the food on the table – but it does have to pay for travel hockey and vacations, my hobbies and my retirement. Whatever it is FOR YOU, write that down. If you want to not work Fridays, write that down (fair warning, I’ve tried that the last two summers and it has never worked out – I like working, I guess!)
Write that in third party narrative too.
Do you want to keep going or is there an end game? I read some years ago that in my industry, one should have a business that supports you, that you should have no more than 10 clients at a time (we all have many more clients, but only 10 active ones at a time), that you can never sell and never retire. Does that sound horrible? At the time, it did. But since I refocused my business, I don’t WANT to stop helping people, and I love learning new things. I’d like to do it LESS as I age, so I can ride my bike, sew my own wardrobe, take more vacations and go hiking with my dog, or sailing, but I would still very much love working with my clients. I have no desire to sell (I have done that, when I changed or sold from partnerships.) I don’t even want employees anymore and for DAMN sure, never a business partner, again.
At the end of this exercise, you’ll have a very good idea of what you want to do, how much you need to make, whom you want to work with, how much you want to work – all of these, practically inform your business plan, your proforma or financial plan, your marketing plan and even operations. It’s a great year-end reset too, if you need to balance.
I used to hate being in business – at the same time as I hated the thought of working for someone else. But now I love it, and yes, I’m a tough boss, but I’m forgiving, too.
^^ If you know me, you know me!