The country is hip-deep in a nearly-unprecedented economic meltdown. You’re riddled with anxiety about whether today is the day your boss decides to lay you off. Sustainable-business expert Dave Pollard (Finding the Sweet Spot: The Natural Entrepreneur’s Guide to Responsible, Sustainable, Joyful Work) offers a solution: become your own boss.
This may seem counterintuitive at a time when the country is facing a recession. After all, it’s hard enough just hanging on by your fingernails to the job you have (and secretly hate). It’s a terrible time to start your own business. Isn’t it?
On the contrary, says Pollard. In this financial climate, investors are more receptive than ever to alternative—and sustainable—business models. So, how do you get started? How do you avoid the boom-and-bust cycle of endless-growth capitalism? How do you follow through on your goal of creating a sustainable enterprise? This week, guest-blogging from his perch at Powells.com, Dave Pollard tells you how.
Surely this isn’t the time to be thinking of changing jobs?
Well, I’ve been helping and studying entrepreneurs for 30 years, and I would argue that this is precisely when you should be starting to create your own sustainable small business.
The key word here is sustainable. Since the dawn of the industrial revolution, we’ve struggled through dozens of boom and bust cycles, and the bust cycles have hit front-line and low-income workers the hardest. Our industrial-growth economy treats people as just another expendable resource, to be “cost-cut” out of a livelihood if revenues don’t meet targets; or if other costs rise; or if it’s expedient to outsource their jobs or offshore them to another country. This way, the employer need no longer worry about their responsibility to them, or the steep cost of employee benefits.
If you want to protect yourself from indifferent employers, there is only one sure-fire way to do it: stop being an employee.
To many, the idea of starting one’s own enterprise is frightening, even unthinkable. In my book, Finding the Sweet Spot, I summarize the fears of entrepreneurship and explain how to move past them: not having the skills, self-confidence, ideas, money, or time; not being able to handle the stress, the failure, or the loneliness; not knowing the “process”; and the fear that “the deck’s stacked against entrepreneurs.” But each of these fears is either a myth, or has a reasonably simple way of being worked around.
Once you get past these fears, you need a process: a proven method to create an enterprise that will succeed in good times and bad.
After working with over 150 entrepreneurs, I started to notice that a few of them — maybe one in 10 or 15 — had found a more natural, sustainable way to make a living. These entrepreneurs thrived in good times and bad. They loved their work. They were respected by and responsible to their people, their customers, and the communities in which they operated. They didn’t work especially long hours. They had few debts and fewer stresses. They were the opposite of the archetypal small businessperson.
When I looked at what differentiated these sustainable, responsible, joyful enterprises, I found that there were clearly six things they did differently.
They discovered what they were meant to do. The work they do is in the Sweet Spot where their Gifts (the things they do uniquely well), their Passions (the things they love doing), and their Purpose (the things people in the world really need, that these entrepreneurs care about) intersect. This Sweet Spot is area three in the three-circle chart above. When I studied all the unhappy and unsuccessful entrepreneurs I knew, I found they were doing work outside this Sweet Spot, most often in area two (unappreciated work) or area five (work they did well but hated). So the whole first chapter of the book is about how to find that Sweet Spot for you, with lots of examples and exercises. It’s really all about knowing yourself. Finding the Sweet Spot is a voyage of self-discovery.
They found the right partners. The biggest mistake most entrepreneurs make is trying to do everything alone. It’s a recipe for failure and exhaustion. Natural Entrepreneurs seek out partners who share their Purpose, and whose Gifts and Passions complement their own. That way, everyone gets to do what they’re good at and love doing. Chapter two of the book suggests how and where to find just the right partners.
They did their research to discover a real unmet need. Where most businesses start with a product, and then try to chase money and customers for it, Natural Entrepreneurs start with a need that no one else is meeting. They do that not by copying anything else out there, or by looking for ideas online, but by talking to lots and lots of potential customers (this is called Primary Research) and discovering something that people really need that no one is providing. So, chapter three of the book explains a simple but rigorous research process, one that draws on the processes used by the world’s best research organizations.
They innovated a product or service that met a need in a unique way. The innovation process, which I explain in chapter four, enables you to iteratively imagine and then realize products and services that are significantly different from anything already in the market, so that you are not competing with anyone else — you are creating a new market for something that you have already established meets a need not met by anyone else.
They made their organizations resilient to marketplace changes. Because they were so connected to their customers and so responsive to their communities, they knew what was happening before anyone else, and they perfected improvisational skills and processes that allowed them to adapt quickly to change, instead of locking into plans that inhibited their flexibility. Chapter five of the book provides examples of how to make your organization more resilient and improvisational.
They built strong, collaborative relationships and networks, and operated their enterprises on principle. They understood that powerful social relationships are the underpinning to all human enterprise, and that collaboration succeeds better than competition. And by sticking to principles of responsibility and sustainability, they ensured that these relationships were deep, trusting, and reciprocal. Chapter six explains how to build strong business relationships and networks, and provides examples of principles that engender trust, and guide responsible, responsive decision-making.
A young couple I know are an excellent, simple example of how this natural approach to enterprise can work. Paul was a scientist in a government department facing downsizing. Grace was a struggling journalist. They quit their jobs and spent their small savings traveling to Tibet and China to explore what they were meant to do.