What Does Small Business Success Look Like? The View of a Reluctant Entrepreneur

Dress UpGrowing up, I didn’t dream of becoming a small business owner. I didn’t play “entrepreneur” with kids on the block. I didn’t get dressed up as a grocer, a psychologist or a jeweler for Halloween.

My dream jobs included firefighter, police officer, cowboy, space cowboy, and the guy who puts doors on cars as they come down the assembly line.

That’s right: at five years old I apparently wanted to be a robot.

Capitalism was not in my blood.

In high school I read The Communist Manifesto. Twice.

In college I planned to become an English professor, but I think that had to do more with my love of co-eds and sleeping late than in trying to educate the next generation of Americans.

It wasn’t until I had been in the work force for a few years that I decided to try and be my own boss.

It was around 1996, and I discovered the Internet. I built a website for the company I worked for on the sly and showed it to my boss. He immediately “promoted” me, moving me from a traveling sales rep with lots of flexibility to an in house marketer.

A few months later I gave my notice.

I figured I had a couple of years of “freedom” with this whole Internet thing. Programmers were bound to learn how to design, and designers would learn how to program.

Almost sixteen years later I’m still here.

So, what does “small business success” look like to a “reluctant entrepreneur?”

It starts with profitability

I don’t care how socially progressive, how community focused, how noble your business is, if you’re not profitable, you’re not running a business.

Sure, when you’re just starting out you might not be profitable. You might have angel investors, a line of credit, or help from family and friends.

Even when you’ve been around a while you might have a bad quarter, or even a bad year. You might take a hit writing off some bad debt, or reach beyond your means to hire a new employee or acquire a key piece of equipment.

But in the long run, you have to be sustainable as a business.

What else?

After achieving that first metric, how you define success all depends on you.

Maybe you want to make the Inc. 500 list. Maybe you want to hire 1,000 people. Maybe you want to make the world a better place. Maybe you want to have enough money to go to Hawaii every year. Or move there. Maybe you want to be able to work in your pajamas everyday.

Live the dream, baby, live the dream.

What Small Business Success Looks Like to Me

The joy of being an entrepreneur is that success can be such a personal thing. Success, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

For me, success means doing work that matters while supporting my lifestyle.

It doesn’t mean squeezing every dime out of my customers, vendors or employees. It doesn’t mean being profitable at the expense of someone else. It doesn’t mean growing my company to a certain number of employees, or a certain dollar figure past what it takes to keep us sustainable. It certainly doesn’t mean wearing a suit and tie.

Do Work That Matters

What matters to me may not matter to you, and vice versa.

I use widgets every day, but I would never want to manufacture them, sell them or ship them. That doesn’t fill me with passion or get me out of bed in the morning.

I do get excited about sharing ideas. I’m passionate about writing—whether it’s an email newsletter, blog post or tweet—and having that content mean something to someone else.

I’m also jazzed when I’m presenting in front of a room full of people who are hungry to learn more about marketing their business on the web. That’s a very energizing experience.

I also love sitting down with small business owners one-on-one, and talking about their business, their audience, and their goals…and how we can help them succeed.

I’m passionate about small business, and that matters to me.

Lead the Life You Want to Live

For me, small business success also means having work/life balance.

Yes, I work long hours. But I’m doing work that I gives my life purpose. I’ve designed a company that allows me to write, present and share ideas on things I think are important.

In other words, my work doesn’t always feel like work.

And while I work a lot of hours, they’re generally on my schedule. If I want to skip out and play squash in the middle of the day I can do so without asking permission.

If I want to be there when my girls get off the school bus, I can be. If I see the forecast calls for snow, I can pack my bags and be at Sugarloaf in a couple of hours.

Yes, I wish I had a vacation home. I wish my kids’ college was already paid for. I wish I didn’t have to worry about how much dinner, the movies and a babysitter is going to set me back on a Saturday night.

Still, we do all right. We rent vacation homes when we need them. We’re putting money into a 529 and saving for retirement. And taking my beautiful and supportive wife out to dinner on a Saturday night is an investment, not an expense.

In short, I wouldn’t trade places with anyone. And I hope if you’re running a small business, you wouldn’t, either.

What does small business success look like to you? Please let me know in the comments below, because writing down what success looks like is the first step to achieving it. 


I am blogging on behalf of Visa Business and received compensation for my time from Visa for sharing my views in this post, but the views expressed here are solely mine, not Visa’s. Visit http://facebook.com/visasmallbiz to take a look at the reinvented Facebook Page: Well Sourced by Visa Business. The Page serves as a space where small business owners can access educational resources, read success stories from other business owners, engage with peers, and find tips to help businesses run more efficiently. Every month, the Page will introduce a new theme that will focus on a topic important to a small business owner’s success. For additional tips and advice, and information about Visa’s small business solutions, follow @VisaSmallBiz and visit http://visa.com/business.

One Response to “What Does Small Business Success Look Like? The View of a Reluctant Entrepreneur”

  1. disqus_QQX1ePZTiV

    Small business success is strategic planning to attain the goals that I set for my business and life. It is being able to one day leave a legacy for my children, grandchildren, great grand children and generations after to build unto. It is being able to live the life that I choose to live. Small business success is being able to extended blessings and opportunities to other people and families as well. Thank you for this wonderful article that has given me great insight for planning for success in my business first the upcoming year.
    Lazandria King