I started a global marketing company 14 years ago with the goal of working with people I respect and admire. I wanted more autonomy, flexibility and control. The funny thing is, I’m working longer and harder than ever before, but it feels different when it’s your firm that you’re building. I didn’t start this business with a specific revenue target in mind, but I know growth is critical both personally and professionally. I’ve realized that the metrics that matter to me most are not the typical entrepreneurial concerns.
Success isn’t always what you think it is…
Downtime for extra-curricular activities.
I wanted to start a business I could leave when I went on vacation and not worry about or let consume me so that I could relax and enjoy myself. (When I’m on, I work all the time, but when I take off, I really want to wind down.) I wanted to have time for community involvement and advisory board work, which I never seemed to be able to squeeze in as an employee.
Work-life balance is not a concept I understand well. I knew my business was real when I took a vacation the first summer after starting it and new business still closed while I was away. They were projects I’d been trying to convert, but the checks didn’t actually arrive until I was out of town. In fact, every time I’ve taken a vacation, a new client has signed up. I take that as a positive sign that the organization can survive and thrive without my intervention at every step.
Rest and refresh
Recharging your batteries is critical, and I know I’m more effective and creative as an entrepreneur when I get out in the real world, away from my office and my computer. Making time for family and friends keeps me in touch with reality and helps me make better decisions. I’ve been able to find time to coach a group of inner city entrepreneurs, and it’s been incredibly fulfilling to share my experience and lessons with them. It’s inspiring to watch them grow their businesses and learn from the group.
Staying true to my core beliefs.
Loyalty is one of my core values–loyalty to self and to others whom I respect. It’s important to me to gauge how many colleagues and customers come back and refer us to those who trust them. Being true to the mission of the organization and delivering superior experiences matter to me a lot. Having the confidence to walk away from a client or colleague who’s diluting the equity in your brand is tough, but it’s necessary sometimes. You must always be authentic to the essence of your brand and surround yourself with people who reinforce your brand and its values–not tarnish it.
Relationship bank account
So I’ve come to the conclusion that for me, relationships matter. Quality encounters matter. Honesty matters. Consistency matters. Authenticity and integrity matter.The experience and the journey matter. Focus on what matters to you and get rid of things that don’t. Taking the clutter out of your mind and your life frees up space for more of what you value.
Success is not one size fits all
Success is very personal so your definition will be–and should be–different than mine. To me, growth for growth’s sake is meaningless, but profitable growth with interesting clients solving important problems is what keeps me engaged and excited. The ability to spend time with people I love and care about is critical. My reputation really matters, and the positive word-of-mouth means a lot to me since almost all of our business comes by referral.
What do you measure?
So how can you measure these things like quality and experience? I used to conduct customer satisfaction surveys when I worked for large companies, so I know research is important, but are there more tangible ways to see if your clients are benefiting from your work? I’ve been asked by a client to join his company’s board of directors. Another client introduces me at meetings as his business consigliere (“She may tell you she’s a marketing consultant, but I don’t make an important business decision without talking to her first!”).
You are the success you’re looking for
When we become part of the fabric of the business, the culture, the DNA–and they can’t imagine us not being part of their team–I know we’re doing well. When price isn’t part of the discussion and we’re their partner of choice, I know we’re on the right track. When I focus on the things that really matter to me, good things just happen.
Don’t forget, however, that the financials can’t be ignored–you have to have positive cash flow to survive. Getting a strong return on your investment is great. But as one of my professors used to say, happiness is positive cash flow, too. At least in my experience, when you measure what matters most to you, you’ll attract the right kind of colleagues and clients and your business will succeed as a result.
A great quote about success comes from Ralph Waldo Emerson: