Whenever someone finds the courage to start a business, there's a mix of excitement, nerves, and pride. There are a million tiny—a handful of massive—decisions to make, but one that I've found is often overlooked is the correlation between business and personal visions.
If you want a billion-dollar company but also want to work alone, it won't happen. Or if your company is in startup mode but you want to travel for three months of the year, you'll stagnate. In the end, your personal aspirations and business goals need to align and complement each other in order for either to work out.
Begin with the end in mind
My name is Jake, and I'm the owner and founder of Willamette Life Insurance. I started my company with complete clarity on what my business would look like down the road. The vision included supporting several employees and leaving a lasting impact on the community, while simultaneously allowing me to spend quality time with my family.
The only reason I felt so in alignment was that I'd already made all the mistakes of not doing so. My journey as a business owner had actually started eight years earlier. I'd tried everything from distributing skincare products to starting a valet company to selling real estate to running a donut shop.
The one thing each of these businesses had in common was that they ended in failure. And I attribute that failure to a lack of clarity. With each venture, I was unclear on what my end goal was—I had no idea where I was heading. When times got tough, it was easy to forget what motivated me to start in the first place, and without a vision, it was also easy to give up.
As you start developing your business, be sure that you have clarity both in the goals for your business and your vision for your personal future.
How is business conducted?
When I was setting up Willamette Life, I thought long and hard about where I would conduct business and the services that I would offer. All of my previous business ventures required me to be at a physical location with a client or customers. This meant that even if it was my wife's birthday or I wanted to take a long weekend, I had to put that aside to meet my customer or manage the store.
It was imperative to me that I could run my new company from anywhere. I decided that the only items I was going to need to operate were a phone, a computer, and an internet connection, and I proceeded to construct my business so that everything could be done remotely. This has given me the flexibility I crave in my personal life.
Deciding where your business's physical location will be will help guide all decisions moving forward. It could be a storefront, a home office, a coworking space, or even your local coffee shop. Just make sure whatever you choose is the right fit for your business model and lifestyle.
What is the organizational structure?
In past business endeavors, I tried to do everything myself. I do have a few excellent strengths, but my pride got in the way, and it was disastrous. I was unwilling to ask for help, even with things that I didn't have the proper expertise or knowledge about. In addition to making bad decisions for my business because of this, I was also consistently burnt out after working too many hours.
This time around, I've hired team members who complement my skills and make up for my weaknesses. This has also allowed me to take occasional time off and work a more manageable schedule without negatively impacting my business's bottom line.
While there's of course more nuance than this, I think of businesses as having one of three simple structures:
Just you. Running a business on your own has lots of benefits and an equal number of headaches. You are the engine that pushes the company forward, so when you stop working, your business will typically stop too. It's up to you whether that's appealing or exhausting, depending on your personal aspirations.
A few employees. Working with a small team of individuals you trust allows you to be heavily involved in the business but have more flexibility.
A large team. A bigger organization that employs dozens of people comes with a whole new set of challenges, but it allows you to have a business that can consistently operate without you.
So what do you envision for your business? Think about your personal plans, and make sure your decision takes that into account.
What is your role in the company?
I rarely thought a year ahead with my previous business attempts, let alone what my long-term role would be. And in some ways, that makes sense—as small business owners, we're wired to control daily operations, and it's hard to think about what things will look like years down the road or if we might want more flexibility for personal time.
But thinking through this aspect helped me a lot. My decision: while I'll still be a guiding force in the business, I want to have my loyal employees eligible for ownership in my company. This helps me feel like my work is for the greater good of my current and future employees and their families as well, which has kept me focused and determined even when times are tough.
You may not come to the same conclusion, of course. You could decide to give up the day-to-day operations and have a trusted partner run the business. Your goal may even be to sell the company. Your long-term role can be anything you choose, but the first step is deciding what that is—it'll have a big impact on how you run your business and how you experience your personal life. While your responsibilities within your company will inevitably evolve, grounding them in an alignment with your personal goals is crucial.
With prior business ventures, I was out of alignment. I didn't think about my personal plans when building out my business plans—and it meant I was unhappy. Now, I'm consistently looking at the balance between my business and personal life. I adapt and I pivot, but I always know the two are in alignment.