As a brand new season awakens with the coming of Spring, small business owners are working hard on their new year goals to optimize growth and success in 2018.
New research from SCORE, mentors to America’s small businesses, shows that overall, 69% small business owners are optimistic about their growth over the next six months. For Millennial business owners — those younger than age 35 years — the optimism is even greater. As many as 82% report feeling very or somewhat optimistic about the year ahead.
This Spring-like positive sentiment remains true for micro-businesses (0-5 employees), businesses in both rural and urban settings, both on- and offline, and across a diverse group of entrepreneurs. There’s no statistical difference when comparing business owners’ ages, ethnicities or genders.
It’s not all a bed of roses, though. Small business owners report having some serious concerns when it comes to growing their businesses in 2018. The similarities and differences can be summarized in SCORE’s infographic:
Those differences apart, the overall mood is an optimistic one. Great news for entrepreneurs and solopreneurs alike!
So what is it, exactly, that creates an aura of optimism? Why does it matter anyway? And how might we all, as online and offline business owners, learn from it?
Let’s take a look.
Optimist or Pessimist: Which Are You?
Let’s imagine a situation. If you’re new to blogging, it’s one that might be familiar to you.
You’re quite happy with your blog about raising cockatiels. You’re adding content to it several times a week, and you seem to be creating a nice following both there and on your related Facebook page. People leave you nice comments!
Then, one day, you come across another blog, also about cockatiels, and covering other kinds of parrots too. This blog is wonderful! So colorful! So much good content! She has 25,000 followers on Facebook! And she’s written — gasp — an ebook!
Which of these responses is you?
- Well, that’s it. I might as well give up now. I can never compete with that. I have no idea about other types of parrots, and I don’t know anything about writing ebooks. And my Facebook community is nothing like that big.
- Wow! That’s a nice site. I wonder what I can learn from it? Cockatiels are my passion so I don’t want to stray into other parrot types, but her section on the problems with incubating the golden-collared Macaw has given me some ideas about raising cockatiel babies… Maybe she would be interested in my becoming an affiliate for her ebook — and we could share each other’s Facebook posts.
For most of us, we might swing from one to the other. Our immediate reaction may be a sweeping feeling of overwhelm — even despair. “That looks perfect and mine isn’t!”
Then, when the initial shock wears off and we think about it, a less pessimistic stance takes hold. Perhaps I could learn. Perhaps we could work together.
The question is, how do we move ourselves from one to the other more quickly, so that our business doesn’t suffer from our overwhelm freeze? What can we learn from the optimism of the Millennials?
And why does it matter, anyway?
Let’s start there.
What Happens If You Lose Your Mojo?
There is a saying in Tibetan:
Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength. No matter what sort of difficulties, no matter how painful experience is, if we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster.Dalai Lama
Sometimes, life sucks.
In our working lives, jobs are lost, income is reduced, roles change to something we never wanted.
If we’re fortunate enough to be solopreneurs or entrepreneurs, our businesses may struggle, our staff cause us problems, the changes in business legislation seem never-ending and utterly incomprehensible.
As the infographic demonstrates, barriers to growth at times seem overwhelming.
In our personal life, people move away from us, fall out with us, get serious illnesses, die. Tragedies happen. Floods. Hurricanes. Earthquakes.
Often, the only control we have in life, and in business, is how we deal with those things.
Have you ever spent time with a pessimist? Have you noticed what your own feelings do in their presence?
If so, you may have noticed feeling increasingly tired. Drained, even. The negativity is like a dark hole that sucks your energy. Your heart sinks when you see that person approaching. You dread the “day from hell” when you’re in a meeting together.
If you spend too long in their presence you start to feel even more stressed. Burned out. Apathetic. Their negativity becomes part of your mindset.
Maybe you eat more. Drink more. Get headaches — migraines, even. Succumb to illness.
Because yes: pessimism can be a killer.
And how will that affect your business? Those around you?
Let me give you a clue. It will not be a positive effect on you, your family, your colleagues or business partners. Pessimism tends not to lead to growth. It blocks development, hinders self-improvement.
And other people are vulnerable to “catching” ours.
Which is why…
Being Positive Matters to Business
Choose to be optimistic. It feels better.Dalai Lama
What happens to businesses whose owners are optimistic?
People around you are infected by your energy. You make people feel better. Employees enjoy working with you. Customers are charmed by you. For the online solopreneur, your vitality shows in your writing. Your passion shines through. Ideas flow more easily. Sales are likely to follow.
Just being around positive people can be energizing, motivating, and inspiring and is likely to help you work more effectively as partners or as a group.1
Can it really be that simple, though, for online businesses? Could people in the virtual world really be affected by how we’re feeling on any given day?
Christakis and Fowler’s study, published in the British Medical Journal2, found that:
Happiness spreads through social networks, much like a virus, which means that you can be infected with the happiness of someone you’ve never even met, and vice versa.
So yes. It can happen. Being positive, even online, can lead to a positive business outcome.
In Solo Build It!, we call it “BAM.”
Bring BAM to the table, pair it with the right tools and process, and you have success.
5 Steps to Remaining Positive
To remain indifferent to the challenges we face is indefensible. If the goal is noble, whether or not it is realized within our lifetime is largely irrelevant. What we must do, therefore, is to strive and persevere and never give up.Dalai Lama
“As the SCORE infographic demonstrates, a solopreneur’s life is not all a bed of roses. Getting out of bed in the morning and repeating a positive mantra isn’t going to cut it. There are daily issues, both personal and professional, that all of us must face.
Sometimes they can seem pretty overwhelming — insurmountable, even. Sometimes we seem to be able to climb that mountain with relative ease — and maybe the use of an ice-axe or two.
So what makes the difference? And when we feel the mountain is just getting higher, how do we rise above it?
Here are 5 key areas where you can make sure your positivity is at least equal to that of those Millennials — no matter what your age!
1. Be aware of emotional contagion.
Pay attention to your emotional and physical health. Recognize and act on the effects of pessimism — and optimism — on you, and on the people you work with.
It may not be possible to get rid of all the negatives that impact your life. It would be hard never to speak again with your pessimistic parent who’s convinced your business will fail. Business contacts who consistently complain about the state of the nation have to be dealt with.
And, although alcohol is a depressant, sometimes the occasional glass of bubbly is just a necessary celebration of the week’s end!
But you can pay attention to your own emotions, and the impact on you of the emotions of others. Awareness is critical in planning strategies to deal with those situations before they ever arise.
Your aim? To get the best out of those who surround you, whether they’re business contacts, family or friends. And to minimize the damage to your own health and well-being.
Suppose you realize that you’re tensing up at the thought of a telephone call with your pessimistic parent. Is it something you could address directly, without laying blame (for blame will only create a defensive reaction)?
How about this? “I know you mean to look out for me, but sometimes when you’re criticizing the path I’ve chosen, I feel myself getting really tense and unhappy.”
Sometimes, people don’t even realize the impact their own emotions have on others. Drawing it to their attention can be all it takes.
So: minimize the damage done by pessimists. And at the same time, increase the positivity in your life.
Surround yourself with happy people. Have contact with social media friends who are generally positive in their outlook. Meditate for 15 minutes a day. Drink enough water. Get enough sleep. Go for a walk in the fresh air during your lunch break (you do take a lunch break, right?). Play with your dog. Or cat. Or chickens.
This isn’t rocket science. You’ve heard it before. This time, do something about it.
Make a pledge to yourself about decreasing the negative and increasing the positive parts of your life.
And always remember: your own approach to life will have an impact on your business.
Which leads us to…
2. Listen and learn.
The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion.Paul Coelho
Value people who have an impact on your business. Your team, employees, contacts, partners, suppliers, mentors — all rely on you to lead them. So do it by example.
As a solopreneur or entrepreneur you generally wear many hats. During the course of a day you might move from being CEO to marketing manager to content writer to cleaning the bathroom…
And often, in among the busy-ness of business, the important things like relationships, particularly listening to others, get left behind. Far quicker to get on with the work, spurred on by your own vision, your own doctrine.
You may have strong convictions — the best leaders do. But strong convictions can border on stubborn. Great leaders temper convictions with the ability to listen and learn — to compromise, when necessary.
Your customers play an important role here, too. A positive approach and a tone of compromise can convert an angry customer to a lifelong fan.
The result? Those who rely on you feel empowered. Your willingness to listen to and learn from others, to value their skills, knowledge, experience and ideas — no matter how off-the-wall they may sometimes seem to be — creates a positive energy that’s contagious.
Sometimes that will involve taking risks. And, as Robert Kennedy once said:
“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”
But risk-taking can be scary. It can lead to some not very optimistic thoughts. “What if…”
Which leads us to consider how to…
3. Be less than perfect.
As an entrepreneur or solopreneur striving for success, you probably have a purpose in mind…
- To create the best online resource for visitors to Italy3.
- To become the most successful vegan cookery coach4.
- To provide the most effective investigation and security services company in Maryland.5
Creating a legacy is often what inspires business owners, both on- and offline. It makes you want to be the best. The most significant. To have the single most excellent product in your niche.
Which is great. Striving for excellence can create an energy in everyone around you.
As long as you remember: it’s the striving that’s important. The outcome may never be quite the perfection you dream of.
Because trying to attain perfection can be a hindrance. Entrepreneurs/solopreneurs who are perfectionists are never satisfied with their own work. Nor are they satisfied with the work of others. Perfection leads to procrastination, and that in turn can cause not just delays in production but frustration in relationships.
It can lead to a poor balance of work and life. At its extreme, it creates a workaholic who is never quite there, can never quite get that e-book published or that course advertised.
Not until it’s “perfect.” Except, it never quite is.
And therein lies the road to despair. Unless…
Know your limits. Plan ahead, for sure. Hunt out people who can help and advise you. Do the research.
And then — launch your product, whether that’s an e-book or a blog page or a new method of extracting teeth.
Know it’s not perfect. Know that you can improve it as you go along. Take that risk, and then, listen. Take feedback from customers, colleagues, friends. Aim for continuous improvement, not perfection.
One of the basic rules of the universe is that nothing is perfect. Perfection simply doesn’t exist. Without imperfection, neither you nor I would exist.Stephen Hawking
…but we, and our business, can always be improved upon.
4. Say “yes!” to your dreams.
If you don’t talk happy, and you never have a dream, then you’ll never have a dream come true!”Rodgers and Hammerstein
It may sometimes seem that only Millennials have dreams. But that’s simply not true. If you’ve lost sight of yours, spend some time finding them again.
Become a Millennial again. What were your hopes and dreams then? And how can you get back to that place?
Remembering, or visualizing, our long-term dreams can revive a flagging positive outlook. Had a bad day at work? Go home, settle down with a cup of your favorite beverage and close your eyes.
Think about where your business could lead. What does success mean to you? Often, “success” is not defined financially 6. It might be…
- Helping customers solve a problem or fulfill their dream.
- More time to spend with your family.
- Learning a new skill (how to build a successful online business, for example!).
- Meeting like-minded people from all over the world.
Those goals might seem a long way in the future from your current vantage point. How can you make sure you achieve them?
- See an opportunity in everything by saying not “why?” but “why not?”
- Test that opportunity. Does it stack up? If not, why not? How could you make it work?
- Focus. Don’t get distracted by the latest bright shiny object.
- Let the dream settle in your head for a while. Ask your brain to work out a solution for you. Doing this last thing at night can often have startling results!
- Find a way of making those dreams come alive. A mentor. A process.
And let that process become your passion.
5. Have fun with your passion.
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Don't think of fun as a reward. Think of it as a responsibility.Sir Richard Branson
Sir Richard says it all.
If you have no passion for your business, if you find you don’t care what happens to it, you’ll find it harder and harder to sustain your optimism. The fun that should inspire and motivate your path to success will diminish.
You won’t want to get out of bed that extra hour early to write a new blog page. Your willingness to leave your comfort zone and call that potential joint venture partner will dwindle.
And in those circumstances, pessimism has a nasty habit of taking hold.
So, make sure when you start your business, whether it’s on- or offline, you have a passion for it.
Because when you follow your dream and find your passion, not only optimism but success will follow in your steps.
It’s one of the basic tenets of Solo Build It!: the passion of ordinary people, creating extraordinary successes, every day.7
When passion happens, you’ll be ready to strive for — not perfection — but fulfillment.