Early in my career, I worked in what is now referred to as the first dotcom bubble. When I think back to those days, I remember it being incredibly fun, hectic, creative and exciting. I also remember working around the clock and feeling like I had no life. In many ways, it was the modern-day equivalent of the Wild West with industry people hoping to strike gold. People were starting new companies daily. Some of the companies became brief success stories, many went out of business and a few are still around today. What characterized the majority of these companies was that they were looking to grow fast and then exit with a big payout in the form of an acquisition or an IPO. The entrepreneurs running these companies were willing to work 24/7 to achieve this goal and expected their employees to make the same sacrifice. What I witnessed over time was a lot of over-worked and unhappy entrepreneurs whose dream did not come true.
While I was in it, living the frenetic life in the dotcom universe, I barely had time to think. But one question kept coming to mind: Is this the only way to be an entrepreneur? The answer became clearer over the years. It most certainly is not. After working with entrepreneurs for over ten years, I’ve found the most valuable opportunity of entrepreneurship is to be able to create meaningful work on your own terms, on a daily basis. Instead of sacrificing a lot in hopes of scoring it big payoff someday, your payday can be everyday.
Being able to get there requires a bit of a re-think, however. Perhaps one of the most drastic elements is to think beyond the financial rewards of running your own business. It goes without saying that it is important to feel compensated for the work that you do and that level of compensation varies from business owner to business owner. However, instead of exclusively working non stop and making significant sacrifices in your life so that you have a big pot of gold at the end, it’s worth considering ways that you can feel like you are receiving golden nuggets daily.
Consider your personal motivations for becoming an entrepreneur. For some it is a desire for autonomy or creative control. For others, it’s about finding meaning, freedom, or unlimited earning potential or a combination of many of these. Now ask yourself, would you sacrifice this aspect of your business for the next 5 years so that you could receive a big payout? No way! This motivator was a driving force for starting your business in the first place. Its value is worth its weight in gold, so to speak. So there is your first golden nugget. A word of caution here: once you realize the value of these benefits, you need to make sure that your business allows for/honors/accommodates them. Perhaps you need to do a little tweaking to make sure that your business meets your needs.
Next, consider what you do for your business. It is not that common in the professional world to have the opportunity to write your own job description. The beauty of being an entrepreneur is that you can and you do. And part of the thrill of entrepreneurship is that that job description changes. You can create a role for yourself in the business that utilizes your strengths and that allows you to feel energized because you get to do what you do best. Of course, there are some aspects of entrepreneurship that are not glamorous (for example, taking out the trash) or that you are not skilled at or enjoy but you still need to accomplish. There are lots of ways to outsource areas of weakness or areas you dislike over time. So ask yourself, would you be willing to compromise doing what you know you do best? What you most love? Would you take a job that does not utilize your skills and talents in exchange for a big paycheck? Of course not. Many entrepreneurs are motivated to start their own business so that they can enjoy their work on a daily basis. That is the operative word — that everyday your work is meaningful. And there is your second golden nugget.
Finally, it is worth considering how your business can make an impact. Many entrepreneurs start their business with the hope that their business will make a difference. This comes in a lot of forms, most frequently tied to the idea of innovating, changing an industry, blazing a new trail or solving a problem. Making a difference is often something that people refuse to put a price tag on as it fulfills a deeper sense of meaning for the individual. The impact your business can make in this world is a golden nugget unto itself. It is pointless to even question if this is something one would trade for a big payout. Working on daily basis towards making a difference is your daily gold.
The course of entrepreneurship varies greatly. There is no one road to get there. But along the way, there are some fundamental building blocks, some critical milestones that go beyond the tactical measures of business growth and success — the personal elements of satisfaction that help motivate and validate your decision of entrepreneurship, those things that cannot take away.
Amy Abrams is an entrepreneur, speaker and co-author of The Big Enough Company: Creating a Business that Works for You (September 2011, Portfolio/Penguin). She is the co-founder of In Good Company Workplaces, a business community center and co-working space in New York City. Amy is also the co-founder of Artists & Fleas, a weekly marketplace for artists, designers and vintage collectors in Brooklyn. For more information, please visit http://bigenoughcompany.