There have been many books, articles, courses and other publications written on the topic of goal setting. As an entrepreneur you know that you alone are responsible for setting and ultimately achieving the goals you establish in your business. You may have help, love and support from family, from friends, from your employees and even from your clients; but, you are steering the ship, and your efforts will ultimately decide the success or failure in your business.
However, the achievement of big goals can be elusive. The classic case study and supporting data is that 80% of people who set New Year’s resolutions fail to achieve them with most people giving up by mid-February. For those of you who go to a gym, I’m sure you’ve been frustrated waiting in line for your favorite equipment in January to being greeted by a nearly empty floor by the time March rolls around.
Small business owners fare a little better, but I’d still like to see better stats. According to the SBA, 30% of small businesses fail within the first two years, 50% by year 5 and about 66% after a decade.
Human beings are capable of achieving incredible things, particularly when the goal is clear and the stakes are high. We’ve all heard the stories of people exhibiting what is called “hysterical strength” to lift a car off of a trapped loved one or grapple with a wild animal to protect a child. And if you want to see a mind blowing example of humans pushing themselves to the edges of their physical and mental limits in a multi-year pursuit of a goal, watch the mountain climbing documentary The Dawn Wall.
Now, we all know that our goals are rarely as urgent or as focused as saving a loved one or climbing a mountain that’s never been climbed; however, it is by harnessing elements of these situations that each of us can dramatically improve our odds of success. And, in my mind, the single most important contributor toward the successful achievement of your goals is having clarity of purpose. And this clarity of purpose is achieved with asking yourself a simple question, “Why am I in business?”
Start with Your Why
I was first introduced to this topic in Simon Sinek’s wonderful book Start with Why. The book can be a bit repetitive, so you’ll also be well-served by watching Sinek’s 20 minute TED Talk on the subject, which is the third most popular TED appearance of all time.
The question, “Why am I in business?” is a simple but extremely powerful one to ask yourself, answer for yourself and then use as a litmus test for every major undertaking within your business.
I’ll give you the Why behind each of my businesses – “While conducting business I am having lots of fun helping people and allowing the money to follow.”
Every word and also the order of the words is important to me as an entrepreneur and as a human being. Let’s break it down.
Having Lots of Fun
“Having lots of fun” is chosen first. I am a recovering people-pleaser and lived most of my first 45 years making choices on the basis of what I should do, not on the basis of what I want to do. The end result? By my mid 40’s I was a burned out, anxious and depressed mess forced to leave my corporate job for health reasons. I made a boatload of money operating on everyone else’s agenda, but had no self-identify, no control over my day from sun up to well past sun down and no compelling reason to get out of bed other than to make sure we could keep paying the bills.
Now as I sift through all of the opportunities that lie before me in business, I ask first, “Will this be fun?” This simple question serves as a great filter for me to select among which marketing strategies I choose to pursue, which services I choose to provide, who I choose as my clients and who I choose as partners and suppliers to help me achieve my goals. And the further I go along in business, the more I recognize and appreciate what is fun in my day. Even proofing content and paying bills can feel fun if you’re sitting outside on your screened porch with a warm cup of coffee in your hand and your cat at your side instead of stuck from 8 until 5 every day baking under the fluorescent lights of a corporate cube farm.
“Helping people” is also central to the Why behind my businesses. There are lots of ways to make money out there, but for me, if I can’t connect it to benefitting my fellow human beings as we make this crazy journey together called “life” then I’m not interested. When setting goals for my businesses, I ask questions like,
“How will this best serve my existing clients?”
“If I were in this entrepreneur’s shoes, what do they most need from me right now to help them succeed professionally and personally?”
“What’s keeping this business owner awake at night? How can I help them with that?”
“What am I doing now that I should stop doing because it’s getting in the way of me helping others?”
“What should I start doing now to be able to serve an even broader group of people?”
“How can I break down the barriers that people have to get them the help they need?”
When I look at my to do list and these questions are front and center in my mind, it once again acts as a simple but powerful decision-making filter as I set goals and plan my day. I am continually searching for and finding ways to provide more value, better service and genuinely help my clients with the problems that are most important to them, but not necessarily those that are being positioned as urgent by the financial services sector.
And, as I said, the order of these guiding principles in choosing my business goals and activities is essential. I always focus on the first two elements before worrying about the third and final component discussed below.
Allowing the Money to Follow
The choice of putting money considerations last and choosing the passive verb “allowing” sends powerful signals to my subconscious. First, it says that I should put my initial focus on what lights me up and what serves others and not, “How am I going to make money from this?” When I remain focused on “having lots of fun helping others,” I get into a much higher mental and emotional state and some magical things start to happen.
First, my productivity skyrockets. I have ten times the mental and physical energy, my creativity zooms and I can’t wait to jump out of bed and start my day!
Second, it puts me into an abundance mindset versus a scarcity mindset. The paradox that has happened to me over the last twelve months is that I am now staring at MORE huge opportunities to make money in my businesses than I can possibly pursue by spending LESS time worrying about how I’m going to make the money!
Now, don’t get me wrong. You still need to do your due diligence and ensure that, once you’ve chosen among those opportunities that align with your purpose, these things either immediately or eventually will generate a profit. However, putting together endless spreadsheets, projections and lists of what will make the most money the fastest (like I used to do) will keep you in a much smaller box.
And finally, the people around you sense a shift in your focus. Maybe they can’t articulate what’s new and different about you, but they want to be a part of it. Your current clients start referring you more and more, you attract new clients at a rate that seemed impossible in the past and your employees and supplier partners start rowing in your direction. Things that used to take a herculean effort now flow with ease in your business and you are able to continually take on newer and bigger business goals.
So Why are You in Business?
Truth be told, I used to read a post like this, immediately say, “Yeah, right!” and then go back to my spreadsheets and money-centered task lists while struggling to earn every dollar. I’d encourage you to get off that hamster wheel, turn things on their head and ask yourself, “Why am I in business?” Be patient with yourself. Write down your initial thoughts but be prepared to reflect and refine this statement over a period of weeks or months until it works for you and unlocks your potential to achieve your current (and future bigger!) business goals. Send me a DM of your first draft – I’d love to chat with you about it!