People start businesses for lots of different reasons.
Some do it for yachts or private jets, power or prestige. But some of us just want to do work we love, to have the flexibility to pick our kids up from school, or the freedom to plan our days and years in a way that feels fulfilling.
The problem with TV shows like Dragons’ Den and the Apprentice is they suggest everyone involved in entrepreneurship is the first kind of person; profit hungry, ruthless and with an exit strategy in mind from day one. You know the type.
I’m here to speak up for those who have no desire to head up an empire
But I’m here to speak up for the second type. Those who are deeply uncomfortable with a tough negotiation, who shy away from spreadsheets and who have no desire to head up an empire.
But they do have a talent, passion and burning desire to bring something into this world that isn’t already here. They are quietly ambitious, gritty, imaginative and willing to work harder than you could ever imagine to build a business and life that they love.
And you know what? We’re not that bad at it either.
I’ve been winging my way through this thing called business for 18 years now and something that has only recently hit home, is that success is a variable term. It isn’t the same for everyone, yet typically the businesses society honour with that label fit a few narrow criteria; big profits, big growth, big payroll. And none of those things are wrong.
They are indeed winning at certain areas of business, but for me it feels a bit pale, male and stale. It’s time to shine a spotlight on the smaller operations; the solopreneurs and the freelancers, the businesses built during school hours, after office hours or in the wee small hours. The side hustles that grew into mortgage payers, the passion projects that now pay for ballet lessons and groceries.
All of these businesses started with a spark of an idea and that niggling thought of “what if?”
What if this idea could become a business? If it means you have the freedom to pursue work that sets your soul on fire and gives you a sense of purpose?
What if that business allows you to provide for your family financially in ways the current day job could never do? And what if it gives you the flexibility to never miss another parent’s night or school play? What if…
I believe there comes a point when the curiosity to find out “what if?” gets so strong that it can no longer be ignored. The trait I think most business owners have in common is imagination – and a willingness to work really, really hard.
You have to be able to envision a world where your idea has worked – the business is flourishing, the order book is full or the event has sold out. It’s this ability to picture the success that starts you on your entrepreneurial journey.
Success means different things to different people
You wouldn’t turn up to the train station with no destination in mind, then wonder why you aren’t getting anywhere. It’s visualising the goal and determination to get there that turns ideas into enterprises and changes lives.
And this takes me back to success. For some folk, a successful cafe business is a national chain turning over millions and employing hundreds of hard-working, milk-frothing baristas. But for someone else, it might mean a village tearoom that serves up home bakes so good that people will drive an hour for them.
Both cafe owners are successful and have ambition, but their definition of success and their route to get there look very different.
You wouldn’t turn up to the train station with no destination in mind, then wonder why you aren’t getting anywhere.”
I love that increasingly we’re seeing people who perhaps don’t have the traditional business leader skill set, and pursue dreams that measure success in terms of wellbeing and happiness, as well as numbers on the balance sheet.
Support structures and culture are shifting to empower those of us with ideas and talents to take that big step and become the boss. And with that, comes freedom.
Freedom equals power
Freedom to take charge of your days, to steer your own ship and to be responsible for your own work-life balance. And yes, sometimes this is still massively out of sync and you find yourself working all the waking hours and wondering what day it is.
But there’s power in knowing this was your choice, that you are building something that matters and that, eventually, you and your family will reap the benefits.
The business world is changing. The old, tired system that swallowed up talent into a CEO’s Mega Corp is no longer the only option, and we’re seeing a revolution of small businesses and unlikely entrepreneurial heroes thrive.
There’s a new tide of start-ups, with a bunch of folk at the helm who are passionate, driven and striving to take charge of their lives.
It’s exciting and inspiring, and reminds us to pick our own definition of success and blaze our own path towards it.
Johanna Basford is the Aberdeenshire-based illustrator and entrepreneur behind a range of globally popular colouring books. Her latest release, Small Victories: A Colouring Book of Little Wins & Miniature Masterpieces (Ebury, £12.99), is due out this month.