I remember going to the chiropractor at the ripe old age of 34 when I took the position of president at a consultancy company that provided business process improvement solutions to radiology practices. So much was going on with acquiring new customers and developing new solutions that I continually carried the stress in my upper back and shoulders. I have a feeling many of you reading this might know what I mean. At any rate, the chiropractor said to me, if you don’t let this stress go, you could get really sick in the future. Because I was functioning with the “it’s-never-good-enough” mentality, I ignored that advice. Fast forward 12 years and I face the daily challenge of living with the two forms of arthritis I have developed. Consequently, my daily life is exactly what the doctor had forewarned. If I had let go and adjusted my own expectations, today, I may be in a different place.
All too often entrepreneurs allow “success” to drive them. In a capitalistic society where business leaders have a fiduciary responsibility to obtain an ROI for their investors, it is completely understandable. I lived that crazy world of long hours trying to achieve – all at the expense of my health and relationships. Instead, I should have enjoyed the journey! My stepdad used to say, ‘It is such a pity that youth is wasted on the young.” In my 20’s, his words fell on my deaf ears. Now in my mid-40’s, I get it. I have not figured it all out yet, but I work much smarter these days when starting a business. How do I work smarter?
1. I structured my business based on my values as well as mentorship, mutuality and trust. By opening a benefit corporation, I do not have to live by the dictates of only earning an ROI for the shareholders. I get to focus on what I really love to do: gifting people and mentoring entrepreneurs. I had a vision to run a retail store as a learning lab for entrepreneurs. The idea attracted supporters with open minds and a heartfelt ethic to facilitate the concept. I am taking the time to understand these people who want to work with Norfolk Fair Trade Company (stakeholders). For the people who work in the store, I give them the responsibilities that fit who they are and what best addresses their personal and professional goals. (NOTE: I did not say I hired for positions needed).
2. I allowed our mission and message to continually emerge in what we do. After opening, NFTCo listened and responded to customer and employee needs. I entrusted that each staff person would move their area of the company forward. Afterall, it is the people who make the company. By working together through problem-solving and developing customer reaching strategies, we are building trust in each others’ judgment and choices. And within the first month of opening, I felt comfortable to leave for 10 days . Nothing blew up, nothing caught on fire. I will leave again in the not-so-distant future. If the leader can’t leave, you are doing something wrong.
3. I work normal hours. I don’t waste time on ideas that don’t have a social purpose and revenue attached to them. I make time for people who drop in. If we don’t get a revenue-generating social reward for Norfolk Fair Trade Company within 90 days, we move on. If I end up not having the time to converse with people, I re-arrange my schedule. I overheard somebody say that “(as the entrepreneur), you had to be the first one in and the last one to leave.” Ah, yes, I remember those days of beginning work at 5:30 a.m. and leaving for home at 8 p.m. I also remember that my body took a physical toll for working 14 hour days; I was exhausted and my daughter did not always see me for breakfast or dinner. The behavior I was modeling created unrealistic expectations of “productivity” and an impatient pace that excluded others – leaving everyone feeling disconnected. The key is to prioritize – which brings me to my net-net regarding business:
4. We focus on our core business: regarding people, and generating revenue to move our social purpose of advancing entrepreneurism forward. We seek to create genuine relationships in the community, and actively look to create win-win opportunities for all involved to the best of our ability.
Interestingly, with this new start-up, I am finding that the same traction is being made without all those long, unrested, body-destroying hours. My motto now: Work smart!