12 Feb 5th Anniversary Exclusive: 5 Entrepreneurship Lessons That Shine Through For Me
My work is all about people and the work they love to do.
I’ve coached close to 200 people over the last 5 years.
I’ve worked with art directors, graphic designers, photographers and lawyers. And with writers, hair and make-up artists, digital entrepreneurs, corporate professionals and even business heads of companies.
It’s heartening to see many of them go ahead and launch their own businesses.
At times, they’ve started from a blank slate. They’ve launched and built their work as fashion stylists, art therapists, gourmet chefs and even artistic holiday planners.
It’s been an eventful journey. Seeing people create work and abundance for themselves, and follow their dreams is fulfilling.
With each person, I’ve learnt new things and discovered new ways.
Yet there are 5 things about working and building a dream business that have stood out for me.
On my 5th work anniversary as a Business & Career Transition Coach, I’m delighted to share my 5 a-ha’s with you.
I hope they inspire you to create happy work, wherever you are, and whatever work you choose to do.
1. Happiness at work is an inside job
As a Business & Career Transition Coach, I meet people who’re unhappy at work.
Two reasons are at the heart of it.
First, there is no bad work or bad performer. Only wrong fits.
If people are unhappy, it’s because what they do is not in tune with who they are.
They could be pursuing work according to their education. Or what they think gets bigger bucks. But if it doesn’t go with who they are, it’s a struggle.
For example, if you’re free-spirited and passionate about writing, you could be a good freelance writer. But you’re stuck in a 9 to “don’t-know-when-the-day-ends” dead-end sales job.
Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. ~ Albert Einstein
At times, people even know what kind of work will make them happy. But they’re unsure of how to funnel it into a business. It’s too big a risk to take. They wonder if they can pull it off.
The unhappiness continues to build.
Truth is, we’re here to serve the world with our gifts.
People are restless around work until they listen to that voice within. And take baby steps to channel those unique gifts into their work. That is when they can create their best work. And then, that work doesn’t feel like work at all, be it a business or a job.
It’s worth spending time to discover work that brings us alive.
If that’s something you’ve been grappling with, my free guide can help you with ‘9 Steps to Discover Your Dream Business’. It will help narrow down to ideas that match your talents, education and experience. It will factor in your duties and responsibilities.
“It’s strange: You become most yourself when you vanish utterly into what you’re doing.” – Marcus Buckingham
The other big reason for unhappiness at work is not what people often think it is. It’s not their bosses, employees, colleagues, or partners. It’s not even the culture of the company or workplace.
In fact, the unhappiness stems from deep behaviour patterns and strongly-held beliefs.
People and situations are not the cause of unhappiness. They only show a mirror to what one needs to transform within. These situations show up at work because that’s where people spend most of their time.
For example, you may find it difficult to stand up to figures of authority and say no when needed. It may be building up unhappiness at work.
Other patterns include being fearful of speaking your truth in stressful situations, giving in to others’ opinions, not having healthy boundaries and so on.
Strongly held beliefs could be “I will be successful only if I struggle for long hours at work,” or “You can’t be ethical and yet make money” and so on.
To change such patterns and beliefs for good, one needs to start making small shifts. They could take up a transformation course, work with a therapist or take a spiritual path.
I’ve seen clients commit to this transformation, and bring changes to their work and life. They’ve created growth and happiness in jobs they once wanted to quit. Or have gathered courage to walk out of toxic jobs and attract healthier ones.
When people align their work with their talents, gifts, aspirations, it becomes more fulfilling. Investing in one self to transform inner patterns, makes the going easier.
That way, they start serving the world with excellence.
2. Most people (including you) underestimate themselves
Growing up, we learnt to compete in school and college.
The same continues at work. People compete for better promotions and increments.
The intent is good. It helps them move out of comfort zones and pushes them to bring excellence to their work.
But it often throws too much light on what people are not good at. It instils the feeling that they’re not good enough.
In my coaching work, I’ve often realised that people make their ‘not good enough’ part their identity.
For example, I hear clients say “I’m not good at networking”. Their idea of networking is an awkward process of meeting strangers in a room. Everyone is handing out business cards and chasing business. It is a greedy, cringe-worthy activity they don’t relate to.
But, they fail to acknowledge that over the years they’ve in fact built, nurtured and invested in great professional relationships. They’ve built their tribe: a bunch of trustworthy colleagues, partners, associates and clients, by doing just that, i.e. networking. Now because they’ve tied themselves to a set definition of networking, they turn away opportunities.
I’ve often had clients who tell me that “they’re not detail oriented”, “not a people’s person”, “can’t do small talk”, and so on. They make these perceptions their identity.
They focus their energy on what doesn’t inspire them, instead of shining light on their magnificence and extraordinary qualities.
They even conclude that because of these shortcomings, they’ll never be able to do well in business. Then, they try hard to become “detail oriented” or a “people’s person” and often fail at it.
They fail to acknowledge their magnificent qualities like creativity, bravery, or being a caring and sensitive person.
We are meant to serve the world with our strengths and the work that pumps us up. This positive energy spreads into our work. As it strengthens, it flows to customers.
The more people honour these strengths, the more they shine. Then, the anxiety about not being good enough matters much less. The more they infuse their passion into their work, the more unique it becomes.
“Many of us feel stress and get overwhelmed not because we’re taking on too much, but because we’re taking on too little of what really strengthens us.” – Marcus Buckingham
If you catch yourself doing this, take time out to know and accept your strengths.
Take a pen and paper, and note them down. Acknowledge things that you’re good at. Write down what energises you. Also, note what people think are your strengths.
For example, you may be a problem-solver, a great listener, a caring person, great at making new friends and so on.
Once you’ve found your strengths, work with them. See how you can infuse them into your work.
In the process, don’t disregard your weaknesses.
Be aware of things that don’t inspire you. Work around them. Don’t make them the focus or spend undue time ‘improving’ them.
For instance, if you’re a graphic designer, doing finance and taxes may not inspire you. Yet as a business owner, you can’t ignore it or leave it to someone else to manage. It’s worthwhile to learn a few concepts about taxes to work well with your accountant.
Take up classes online or at a local business school that teaches fundamentals of finance and taxes to business owners. You can also request a local chartered accountant to help you with key concepts. You don’t need to do a Ph. D. in taxes to ‘improve’ your weakness. That way, you can take ownership of all parts of your business, even those parts that don’t inspire you.
3. Listening to customers with empathy is rewarding
Classic marketing practices ask us to understand the customer and do market research.
But, meeting a customer with a questionnaire and jotting down responses may not give rich answers, or lead to any breakthroughs.
Henry Ford said, “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said ‘a faster horse’ and no one would have said a car.”
Business owners must take steps to understand their customer deeply. They must dig deep into the context, emotions, aspirations, and most importantly the pain of the customers. This makes them more likely to come up with breakthrough solutions and offerings. When an offering is meaningful to customers, they’re willing to pay and spread word about it.
Listening to customers with empathy and building solutions based on that, is a key pillar of a successful business. Not just at the start, but through the life of a business.
Meet customers. Talk to them. Understand what pains them. Empathise. Watch them, observe them. Listen to them on social media, in the mall or at work.
See what the customer feels. It enables you to shape your offering in relevant and compelling ways. Finally, it helps serve the customer better.
I’ve seen that many entrepreneurs skip this process. They do not take time out to lend a ear and listen to customers with empathy. They feel they ‘know’ the customer very well. Or they feel that they themselves are the customer so ‘I already know’.
The pitfall here is that they could land up creating ideas and products that nobody wants. They could well land up launching a business for a need that does not exist.
“The main tenet of Design Thinking is empathy for the people you’re trying to design for.” – David Kelley, Founder, IDEO
Listening to customers with empathy can also help craft sharp sales and marketing content that connects with consumers and converts faster.
If a business idea is a convergence of what pains people, and what an entrepreneur’s passionate about, it’s a winning combination.
4. Consistency is non-negotiable
In work as in life, every aspect of business requires consistency.
Be it networking or building relationships, sales and marketing for business, or making a brand’s presence felt on social media, it all needs to be done consistently to bring movement and growth.
It’s not wise to have gaps or go on a long hiatus. It doesn’t help to meet customers in breaks or start networking only when there is a need for more business.
Entrepreneurs need to be consistent in all aspects of business, right through the life of their business.
“It’s not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives. It’s what we do consistently.” Tony Robbins
I’ve seen clients having patience, faith and staying power create successful businesses. And I’ve seen talented entrepreneurs – who don’t have the patience, faith and staying power – not make it.
Those who made it have persisted through ups and downs, taking it all in their stride. Falling, getting up, seeking help, course-correcting and running again.
Business owners who’re inconsistent may spread themselves too thin. They may love doing Facebook Live for their audience one day. On another, day they may want to engage with them on a Facebook group. Or start Instagram stories. But, in doing so they may not be fully present in a single activity.
Relationships with clients, employees or partners also need nurturing every day.
Zero in on what your business requires. Choose a few things, do them well and be consistent.
In fact, many good ideas don’t make it because people give up too soon.
Knowing the purpose of work – i.e. why you’re doing what you’re doing helps bring consistency to work. This brings me to last thing that stood out for me.
5. Going back to your WHY can keep you going for long
Through the course of a business, there’ll be good, bad and ugly days.
Bouquets and brickbats, success and disappointments are all part of the business journey.
This may be exhausting, tiring and challenging. One may want to throw in the towel and give it all up.
There’s one thing that anchors a person through these ups and downs. It pulls them up when they feel low. And that thing is – reminding oneself WHY they’re doing what they’re doing.
For example, you may be a content writer for small businesses who struggle with communicating to their customers. You have a gift to help such businesses find their voice and engage with their customer. This work drives you, you feel connected and fulfilled by doing it.
Your clients are thankful because this helps them connect with their customers and drive business growth. Your big WHY is to champion the cause of expression for business. That keeps you motivated and inspired.
On a day when you’re feeling low or having a writer’s block or a disagreement with a business partner or your child is not well, going back to your WHY can shift the energy and help you bounce back.
The authenticity and purity of that WHY has magic that can lift you up.
“People don’t buy WHAT you do; they buy WHY you do it.” ~ Simon Sinek
When you’re tired, lost or overwhelmed at work, go back to your WHY. It has the power to bring you back.
If your work aligns with who you are, and you invest in yourself, it can make you happier.
When you choose to infuse your strengths into your work, then the weaknesses matter less.
Listening to customers with empathy helps you craft a compelling offering.
Consistency helps you nurture your business every day.
At the end, what keeps you going is staying rooted to knowing why you started this work in the first place.
These 5 things have made my business journey more exciting and meaningful. As I complete 5 fantastic years as a Business and Career Transition Coach, I hope these lessons enliven your journey too.
Inspired by my journey and want to kick-start your own? Have some enduring lessons to share from your own work? Tell me about what you love to do on firstname.lastname@example.org