I don't think it's less scary or more stable/secure working for someone else's business. They have the same risks you do, but the rewards are fewer when you work for someone else. The best part of running your own business is that you get to learn -- in fact you must learn constantly to grow yourself and your business. As a business owner, only YOU are responsible and accountable. YOU must develop the plan, learn what you need to know, take initiative, and implement that plan effectively.
If you work for someone else, you're reliant on them to make those key decisions. I'd prefer to be self-reliant, because I believe in my own capacity to learn and improve as I go. So what should someone who starts a business be focusing on? Here are a half-dozen thoughts:
1. Understand the "why?" You have to stand out and stand up for something in this world. Customers want to be able to differentiate you from other businesses in the market, so you had better be different somehow. You can be cheaper, or offer higher quality, or focus on service, or whatever. You need to know why you exist and how you're special. I believe values are what make me different. I believe in helping and sharing, both with my content and as an individual. I seek to build a community of people who help and share. I want clients who believe in helping and sharing.
2. Follow passions to learn. As my writing business has grown, clients have given me more autonomy in selecting topics to research and write about. They've gotten to trust me, and I've worked hard to earn that trust. But this autonomy comes with a hugely important question: What ideas do I want to learn and share? Where do I want to focus my curiosity? I've decided to spend more time focusing on employee wellness, which concerns the physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of people in the workplace. The subject is complex and multidisciplinary, involving psychology and nutrition and mindfulness and more. It's also connected to me personally, not to mention the struggles of friends and family. There's a lot to learn about wellness, and I'm learning by reading and talking to smart people.
3. Take care of people. Any business is just people doing things people do, whether it's a Silicon Valley tech company, a Wall Street investment bank, or a mom-and-pop retail store on the corner. The people in the business define the business and its culture.
Since I'm my only employee, I preserve and value myself, my energy, my creativity, my health, and my soul. I am called upon to be creative every working day, and in order to do that I must be fully human and fully present each time I write. So I rest, eat well, exercise, meditate, exercise, go to church, spend time outdoors, love my family and cherish my friends. When any business takes care of its people, those people will help the business grow -- whether it's a business of 1 or 100,000.
4. Don't change who you are to satisfy all clients. You must define yourself by saying "no." The fastest way to failure is to try to be all things to all people, to become a human Swiss army knife. I work with clients who understand how I'm different and how I work. If client expectations don't align with what I do and how I do it, then I won't work with that client for long. It's never personal, but it's about respecting the way I work and the way they work.
If the client "fit" isn't right, don't change yourself into something you're not to make it "right." Being NOT you is terrible for business. It's much easier to find a client who does fit how you work -- I have a lot of them, and nothing beats mutual appreciation.
5. Connect. The best businesses get close to people. They share and ask questions. They can even feel like friends. Again, human connection and community are part of what matters most for any business, including mine. If I can't be fully human with a client, and they can't be fully human with me, then we have a transactional relationship. You give me an assignment and some money, then you receive a story. This is okay, but great businesses are not transactional -- they seek to deepen and humanize relationships. I want long-term, sustainable, human interactions, not transactions. I'm not a vending machine where cash goes in and stories come out. Some writers might be fine with that, but I'm not (for long).
6. Have mentors and great examples. Running a business takes a clear vision of who you are and where you want to go. My favorite all-time entrepreneur is Yvon Chouinard, who founded outdoor apparel company Patagonia in Ventura, California. Chouinard loves the outdoors, especially rock climbing and surfing. As a young man, he'd been to Europe for rock climbing and noticed that the equipment and apparel was of higher quality there. So when he returned to California, he started making European-inspired equipment and apparel for rock climbers (he and his friends, at first), using European designs as his prototypes and accessing local materials.
Although he founded a billion dollar global business, Mr. Chouinard has never lost his deep connection to the outdoors. He still spends 5 months per year fishing in Wyoming, and encourages his California-based employees to surf whenever the waves are good, even on a Tuesday afternoon. When asked his secret to success on the NPR podcast "How I Built This," Chouinard responded "simplicity."
Patagonia is famous for putting employees first. They offer day care to employees, since 70 % of its workforce is women. They also allow autonomy to employees about how to do their jobs.
Mr. Chouinard believes in sustainability in all he does, even offering free repairs of the clothing and equipment he sells. He wants his customer to buy and use something for life, which is a strange business practice. Patagonia customers aren't just loyal to the brand, they almost define themselves by it. Chouinard's values, the ways he values the outdoors and people and the concept of sustainability, pervade everything Patagonia does, and his customers identify with these values in a powerful way that goes far beyond money. His employee love working at Patagonia too, unsurprisingly.
I'm still growing both my business and myself, and have a lot to learn. More than anything, I try not to judge my business by the balance sheet alone. Yes, I want to make money but I also want to discover, over time, more of the good things in myself and others. I want to express my creativity, to educate, inform, and help others, to set an example of caring. Success, as I define it, is the capacity to be fully yourself, which isn't as easy as it might sound.