Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Shahrzad Arasteh.
Starting and running your own endeavor, whether you call it a small business, freelance work, or entrepreneurial project, can be exciting, full of surprises, and fulfilling. It’s a unique expression of who you are, what you care about, your preferred skills, who you want to serve, and the topics you want to work on.
This journey can also feel lonely and scary at times. You may not know many people who have done it or who have made it work for them. You may compare yourself to entrepreneurs who seem to have it all figured out and are considered successful by their peers and society. When you look at them, you wonder why you’re not more like them or closer to where they are.
Here is the thing:
There is no rule that says you have to follow someone else’s (or society’s) definition of success. (Tweet this.)
Nor is there one “right” way to create and maintain a small business. You are the best person to define what success is for you and how you want to live your life (the work/business you want to create).
No one else gets to tell you are or are not an entrepreneur or what qualifies as a small business — you do. And, while you may be tempted to convince people your definition of a small business owner (or freelancer, creative entrepreneur, et cetera) is valid, it’s not your job to do so. You do not need to spend time and energy changing others’ minds and perceptions. What matters is to focus on doing the work that will get you closer to your life goals.
How to Shift Your Mindset to Realize Your Success
As you consider making a shift in mindset — from fulfilling other people’s definition of success to fulfilling your own — these suggestions may be helpful.
1. Start with what your success looks like for you.
Then, decide how you want to get there. (What is your unique way of doing the work?) For one person, success may be creating a business centered on their area of expertise that lets them work from anywhere. For another, it may be doing work they’re passionate about that brings in sufficient income (as defined by them) while accommodating their caregiving or other priorities. Take time to clarify what your success looks like. It will serve you well all along the way.
2. Consider what fits your personality and preferences.
To determine what fits, think about both the goal and how to get there. If you prefer taking lower risks, investing everything you own and taking out a large loan may not be the best way to start your business. If you get energized by other people and activities, a business that requires you to spend most of your time in an office, alone, is not likely to be the best fit.
3. Know your ”why” as well as the reasons you do specific things.
This knowledge informs why you say no to one opportunity and yes to another. Part of this knowledge comes from your values and priorities:
Why are you creating the business and life that you are?
Why do you focus on the kinds of topics, questions, or clients that you do?
Knowing your “why” helps you make decisions that support you and create a path aligned with the goal you’ve chosen. Of course, you should consider other points of view and questions when making decisions, especially major ones, but once you know you’re making the best choice for you, make it with confidence.
4. Know what you are and are not willing to do.
Knowing what you are and are not willing to do helps you expand your comfort zone a bit and email someone you don’t know but would like to interview for a blog post. Or, the knowledge could lead you to say, “No, I won’t approach this global firm because I’m not ready to work at that level yet, and I realize that choice may mean I won’t create as much opportunity or income this year.”
As you think through your non-negotiables, examine the values and priorities you’re not willing to compromise. Clarify what you’re willing to give up or do without, as well as what you want out of work and life.
Also, rank your priorities and values in order of importance. Doing so can help you evaluate options and make executive decisions. For example, if you care about protecting the environment, you’d likely choose not to pursue a project with an organization known for harming the environment.
Knowing what you are committed to and why it anchors you makes it easier to stay the course. The information can also help you recognize when to stop and try another strategy, pursue other work, or decide between a job and self-employment.
You need this knowledge; without it, you could give up too soon or be swayed by other people’s opinions and suggestions. Depending on your endeavor, people may say, “You should give up and get a job,” or “No, don’t go out on your own,” or “If you’re not making enough from this and need to keep working a job to support yourself, you don’t have a business.” What they say often comes from their beliefs, frame of reference, experience, and personality rather than a desire to discourage you. Consider where they’re coming from, and remember that what they say may not be true, or at least not true for you.
5. Set your timeline.
If you need extra income for the next year to keep doing the meaningful work you love, develop a detailed timeline. It should include specific ways to maintain a steady income to prevent so much anxiety and stress that you almost forget how much you love the work and why you want to do it.
6. Expect trial and error to get things right.
Once you’re doing the work of starting a new business or project, you’ll see what works and doesn’t work for you. You’ll also learn what your ideal situation really looks like. You may start out thinking you want to work with individuals and then find it’s a better fit for you to work with organizations. Or maybe you think you want to create courses but realize what you love — and what supports you — is individual coaching.
7. It’s okay to adapt and change as you go.
Remember: You define success, not someone else.
It’s okay to have a job and a business, to have a smaller business, or to combine things to realize your goals. It’s also okay to decide, if your needs change or life changes, to get a job because being an employee better fits your current life and needs. Other people don’t live your life or pay your bills, so don’t give them the power to decide how you should live/work/what your goal should be. Their opinions — or the ones you imagine they have — are just that: opinions.
Finally, as you head into starting your new endeavor, support other small business owners’, entrepreneurs’, and freelancers’ model of what works for their life and business! Recognizing and honoring the different paths we each take is important. It moves us toward helping each other thrive and creates a diverse community of creators, small business owners, self-employed individuals, and entrepreneurs.
I wish you meaning and success (as you define it)!