Updated: Jun 12
Starting and running your own business is, in my opinion, one of the most fulfilling things you can do. It allows you to create something you're proud of, create your own future, be your own boss, and live life on your terms.
But, as any of us who have started businesses know, reaching these outcomes isn't exactly a walk in the park. It's pretty common for business owners to get so bogged down by the day to day running of the business that they lose sight of those lifestyle outcomes that inspired them in the first place.
I started my first business (A gym) to help people live better lives and be my own boss. To create my own lifestyle. A few years in, I had a team, and we were changing peoples lives. But I was working more than I had ever worked before (note I've served in Afghanistan and worked on deep-sea fishing boats), more stressed than I'd ever been before and feeling pretty burnt out. I was also paying myself less than £1500 a month.
Business doesn't need to be this way. Yes, getting a business off the ground is hard work, but it shouldn't have an ongoing negative impact on your health and happiness. The world needs business-minded people. People that are passionate about solving problems and highly self-motivated. When you sacrifice your health at the expense of your passion, you're slowly robbing the world of your gift.
All of our stories are different, but from talking to and working with hundreds of business owners, we know that many of the challenges we face are created by common mistakes.
So here are 5 of the most common mistakes small business owners make that take the joy away from the business.
Putting themselves last
If there's one thing business owners have in abundance, it's passion. So why do business owners often feel frustrated with their staff? Because they're not wired to be as naturally passionate and self-motivated as you.
But too much of anything can be a bad thing. One of the most common traits I see in myself and countless business owners is that they are so passionate about realising their vision they're willing to put themselves last in its pursuit. A famous quote often attributed to the Buddha states, "there is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way". So essentially, although your highly passionate about what you want to achieve, and rightly so, if you don't go about it in a way that makes you happy, it's not going to work.
This isn't just a nice way of looking at things. This has been scientifically proven. Shawn Achor, the author of the 'happiness advantage', shows with in-depth research and data that success does not lead to happiness but that happiness leads to success.
It's not achieving your business vision that will make you happy. It's looking after yourself in the now that will help achieve your business vision.
As we've already established, running a business isn't a walk in the park, it's complex. It demands the owner to be agile, to lead people and to make countless decisions. You can't do that if you're not healthy and happy - so don't fall into the work hard till I get there trap.
Not formalising their vision
I was recently running an OKR (objectives key results) workshop with Changes UK. Changes are an addiction recovery service run as a business. They have a wonderful vision and mission around changing the approach to addiction and lifelong recovery. What's also inspiring is that Steve, the business owner, has himself been through recovery, as have most of the staff that run it.
As you can imagine, Steve oozes passion about what Changes does, where it's going and what it stands for. The vision, the mission, the purpose and the values of Changes UK have all come from Steve. Of course, the other staff live and breathe this, expand it and make it grow, but it started with and is the essence of Steve.
Due to the incredible nature of what they do and their innovative approach to changing the face of recovery, unsurprisingly, the business has grown quite rapidly. Like most small businesses, the business started with Steve and a core team of people working together every day to bring a vision to life.
You can't go near Steve or the rest of the team without soaking up the essence of what they do and why because of the passion mentioned above. So as Steve was telling me, in the early days of the business, although there wasn't a formalised strategy (vision, mission, purpose, values), everyone, including the cleaner, knew EXACTLY what these were.. because they were close to Steve and the team was hyper aligned.
But that's not how the business is formed anymore. Instead, Changes have multiple streams of business in various locations with over 40 staff. Anthony, the Ops Director, runs the show. Steve is often not around the office, which is why they are working on refining and communicating their vision, mission, purpose and values.
Businesses and every person within them need to feel connected to a long-term vision and the pathway towards that vision. Like a ship without a map or destination, businesses without a vision get lost, and employees (crew members) don't feel very passionate about what they're doing.
Most small businesses at startup can get away with not having this written down because it's oozing from the owner, like in the example above.
But for as long as it's only in the owner's head, either the owner is stuck in the business, or the business loses direction whenever the owner is not around.
Don't let your ship and crew rely on you. Choose your destination and draw your route. Make sure you have a written, regularly communicated vision.
Passion over Profit
You don't need a business degree to know that you need to have happy customers for a business to be successful. The challenge for us business owners can be when we focus so heavily on the customers that it comes at the expense of the owners, employees and business.
This presents many passion-driven business owners in service-based businesses with a challenge, especially when the business has built from them providing the service.
I use the term passion-driven business owners to refer to business owners who are genuinely more motivated by providing a fantastic service than they are the financial results of doing so.
Although it sounds very 'nice', it's widespread in business, and I believe at the core of many of the challenges faced by small business owners.
I'm very passion-driven. Part of the Better Happy vision and my personal vision is to make the world a better place. Something I believe is genuinely achieved by helping people be happier.
In my first business (Functional fitness gym), I wanted to change peoples lives. My motivation level for that was 99.9%. I wanted to make money and have freedom, but let's say my motivation level was more around 80%. And at the time, my motivation level for learning and implementing good business practices outside of anything that I didn't feel directly contributed to my clients was about 20%.
What did this lead to?
We were getting incredible results. We were growing consistently. We had a great reputation and loads of positive reviews. Perfect.
We also had:
Memberships that were too cheap, lots of people on discounts, staff that were not getting paid what they deserved to be paid. An owner who didn't take a holiday in three years and less than ideal profit levels.
These were all things we fixed, but the problem arose from the fact that I, the person running the business, focussed almost purely on the customers and not on the employees, myself and the business.
This is something we see again and again in business owners across different sectors.
I was recently running some training for a group of childcare business owners. Of the 10, they were almost identical in what motivated them to do what they do. They want to provide kids with a great experience, they want to do it in their own way, and they want a level of freedom in their lives. Yet, almost all of them were working too much, not enjoying a level of freedom and not paying themselves enough. Why? Because they're pursuing what they're passionate about - providing a fantastic service to kids - and avoiding what they're not passionate about - Money.
If you fall into this trap, there's one pivotal paradigm shift you need to remind yourself of regularly.
You can't provide the level of service you want to deliver without having good business practice and finances in place.
Not Getting Employees Involved in Objectives
Taking on staff and developing a team should be one of the most rewarding parts of owning a business. On top of that, it should be the point where our lives start to become infinitely easier: more employees, more capacity, more time off for the owner. Unfortunately, due to the complex nature of us humans, this isn't exactly how it tends to go.
More often than not, as small businesses grow teams, the owners get busier and more stressed. So on top of running the business and keeping clients happy, we now have a team of people that we need to support, develop and get the most from.
Amongst the million and one other jobs, we have we now find ourselves trying to set and track business objectives and do the same for each of our new team members. Yet, we know there are many different ways they could add value, and we can fall into the trap of overloading them with lists, tasks and ideas.
This is no good for them or you. Your ideas struggle to gain traction with your employees, which frustrates you. Your employees don't feel connected to the bigger picture, and work starts to feel like work.
It's a much better method to involve your employees in the objective planning process. It's your business, and you have a clear vision of what you want to achieve, so you can't do this without first communicating your vision. Once a year, you should 3-5 yearly objectives that, if completed, you'd be happy with. Depending on the size of the team, you can choose whether you do the annual objectives on your own, with your leadership team, or with your entire team (smaller business).
Once you've done this, you should then involve your team in the quarterly objective planning process. Again, you're leading them by communicating the vision and the yearly objectives, but you're letting them tell you how they think those objectives can be realised.
From doing this, you're going to get a lot of benefits. Firstly you don't have to try and come up with all of the answers yourself. Secondly, your team are going to feel more valued and more connected to the big picture. Thirdly, as the team members are creating objectives for the business and themselves, they will be highly motivated to achieve them.
Going about it this way allows business owners to do what they do best. They create the vision without getting the brain fog of having to try then and plan every required action step for success. It stops business owners from feeling overwhelmed and frustrated with their ideas not coming to fruition. And it does this is in a way that is a win-win for the owner, employees and business.
By far, the best system you can follow to integrate this practice into your business is the OKR google used to grow from 40 staff to 60000. OKRs are outlined in the book 'Measure what matters' by John Doerr and are something we help businesses implement via the Better Happy Program.
How much better would your life and business be if you started implementing these steps into your business?
At Better Happy, we believe that businesses have the power to make the world a better place. They do that best when their leaders and employees are healthy, happy and engaged. So we're on a mission to stop poor health and happiness from becoming a barrier to business success.
Take the free scorecard below to determine how well your business is set up for happiness and what you can do to start improving today.